December 17, 2020
By Jeffrey Dastin and Paresh Dave
(Reuters) – Staff on Google’s Ethical AI research team on Wednesday demanded the company sideline a vice president and commit to greater academic freedom, escalating a confrontation with management following this month’s termination of scientist Timnit Gebru.
The personnel called on Vice President Megan Kacholia to be removed from the team’s management chain after she allegedly excluded Gebru’s boss from the decision to fire her, according to an internal document seen by Reuters.
Gebru had questioned Google’s demand for her to retract a paper describing harms from Google-like technology, and the company answered by saying it accepted her resignation.
The document also demanded an explanation of the dismissal, transparency into reviews of staff papers, and an investigation into how Google handles employee complaints about working conditions, like those Gebru raised while at the company.
Separately, U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, Senator Elizabeth Warren and seven other members of Congress wrote a public letter on Wednesday to Google-parent Alphabet Inc Chief Executive Sundar Pichai asking about plans to review Gebru’s firing and policies for publishing research.
The demands represent the latest in a series of standoffs between Google and its critics since 20,000 of its workers walked off the job globally to protest how the search giant dealt with sexual harassment claims. The company changed policies thereafter.
Gebru gained prominence as co-founder of the nonprofit Black in AI and as co-author of a landmark paper on bias in facial analysis technology. She was co-lead of the internet company’s Ethical AI team, which the employee document said was essential for informing the public on the impacts of AI systems even when that meant constructive criticism of Google.
Google and Kacholia did not immediately return a request for comment. It was unclear how many people authored the demands, which followed a prior petition for academic freedom that garnered signatures from more than 2,600 people at the company.
Bloomberg earlier reported the news.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin and Paresh Dave; Editing by Stephen Coates)