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Two Google engineers quit over firing of ethical AI leader Timnit Gebru

The fight between Google executives and staff continues to escalate

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Two Google engineers have quit over the treatment of Timnit Gebru, former co-lead of the ethical AI team. David Baker, an engineering director, said Gebru’s dismissal “extinguished” his desire to remain at the company. Vinesh Kannan, a software engineer, said he was leaving because Gebru and April Christina Curley, a diversity recruiter, were “wronged.” The news was first reported by Reuters.

“We cannot say we believe in making a more understanding, informed world, and then ignore how our products amplify biases,” Baker wrote in a farewell note to colleagues. “We cannot say we believe in diversity, and then ignore the conspicuous absence of many voices from within our walls.”

The departures point to an ongoing conflict between Google management and staff. In December, Gebru said she was abruptly fired over an email she sent to the Brain Women and Allies listserv. In the note, she spoke openly about her doubts regarding Google’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. After she went public, 2,695 employees signed an open letter calling on Google to do better.

Later that month, Curley tweeted about her September 2020 firing. “THEY DO NOT WANT BLACK TALENT,” she said. “Take it from ME- their most successful BLACK QUEER WOMAN recruiter who they fired in the middle of a MF pandemic because they were tired of hearing me call them out on their racist bullshit.”

In a statement emailed to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said: “We don’t agree with the way April describes her termination, but it’s not appropriate for us to provide a commentary about her claims.”

Kannan announced his resignation on Twitter on February 3rd. He said the company’s treatment of Gebru and Curley crossed a personal red line: “retaliation against a teammate who stands up for something I believe in.”

In January, roughly 230 Google employees announced they were forming a union, building on years of employee activism. The news was first reported by The New York Times. Today, that organization, the Alphabet Workers Union, has more than 800 members.