Google fires Margaret Mitchell, another top AI ethics researcher

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Google on Friday fired Margaret Mitchell, another top researcher on its ethical AI team, escalating internal issues at the company following the departure of Timnit Gebru, one of the leading figures on the Google’s artificial intelligence ethics team.

Google told Reuters they fired Mitchell after a week-long investigation that found she moved electronic files outside the company. Google said Mitchell violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies.

Axios reported that Mitchell was accused of using automated script to look through her emails in order to find evidence of discrimination against her coworker Timnit Gebru. 

“I’m fired.”, Mitchell tweeted on Friday. 

Mitchell’s firing comes a day after Google announced a reorganization to its AI teams working on ethics and fairness.

Google announced in a blog post that Marian Croak, the vice president in the engineering organization, will now lead “a new center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research.” 

Dr. Marian Croak has spent decades working on groundbreaking technology, with over 200 patents in areas such as Voice over IP, which laid the foundation for the calls we all use to get things done and stay in touch during the pandemic”, Google stated in the blogpost

Mitchell joined Google in 2016 as a senior research scientist, according to the Verge, citing Mitchell’s Linkedin page. Mitchell and Timnit Gebru were part of the team that started the ethical AI team in 2018.

According to The Verge, Mitchell and Gebru were working on a paper in December 2020 about the dangers of large language processing models when Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain, asked that the article be retracted. Gebru pushed back, saying the company needed to be more open about why the research wasn’t acceptable. She was thereafter fired, though Google characterized her departure as a resignation, the report said.

Gebru tweeted the following on December 2.

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“Apparently my manager’s manager sent an email my direct reports saying she accepted my resignation. I hadn’t resigned—I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I’m back from vacation. But I guess she decided for me 🙂 that’s the lawyer speak.”

 

After Gebru’s termination, Mitchell became openly critical of Google executives, including Google AI division head Jeff Dean and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. In January, she lost her corporate email access after Google began investigating her activity.

Earlier in the month, Mitchell wrote on Twitter: “I am concerned about @timnitGebru‘s firing from Google and its relationship to sexism and discrimination. I wanted to share the email I wrote to Google press the day my access was cut off.”

 

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“After conducting a review of this manager’s conduct, we confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees,” Google said in a statement to Axios about Mitchell’s firing.

Google’s ethical AI team ethics has been in crisis since Gebru, a prominent Black researcher in Silicon Valley, was dismissed in December. Gebru’s exit sparked protest among thousands of Google workers. Mitchell and Gebru co-led the ethics in artificial intelligence team for about two years.

Gebru and Mitchell, who is white, had called for more diversity among Google’s research staff and expressed concern that the company was starting to censor research critical of its products, according to The Guardian.

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