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After firing a top AI ethicist, Google is changing its diversity and research policies

After firing a top AI ethicist, Google is changing its diversity and research policies


The company’s head of AI apologized for his handling of the situation

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Google is changing its policies related to research and diversity after completing an internal investigation into the firing of ethical AI team co-leader Timnit Gebru, according to Axios. The company intends to tie the pay of certain executives to diversity and inclusivity goals. It’s also making changes to how sensitive employee exits are managed.

Although Google did not reveal the results of the investigation, the changes seem to be direct responses to how the situation with Gebru went down. After Google demanded that a paper she co-authored be retracted, Gebru told research team management that she would resign from her position and work on a transition plan, unless certain conditions were met. Instead of a transition plan, the company immediately ended her employment while she was on vacation. This sparked backlash from members of her team, and even caused some Google engineers to quit in protest.

Google had claimed that Gebru’s paper was not submitted properly, though the research team disagreed. Google has now said it will “streamline its process for publishing research,” according to Axios, but the exact details of the policy changes weren’t given.

In an internal email to staff, Jeff Dean, head of AI at Google, wrote:

I heard and acknowledge what Dr. Gebru’s exit signified to female technologists, to those in the Black community and other underrepresented groups who are pursuing careers in tech, and to many who care deeply about Google’s responsible use of AI. It led some to question their place here, which I regret.

He also apologized for how Gebru’s exit was handled, although he stopped short of calling it a firing.

The policy changes come a day after Google restructured its AI teams, a change which members of the ethical AI team were “the last to know about,” according to research scientist Alex Hanna, who is a part of the team.

Google declined to share the updated policies with The Verge, instead pointing to Axios’s article for details.