Google engineers resign over firing of AI ethics researcher

Platform News: Google search engine

An engineering director and a software developer have quit Google over the dismissal of artificial intelligence researcher Timnit Gebru, a sign of the ongoing conflicts at the search giant over diversity policies and ethics.

David Baker, a director focused on user safety, left Google last month after 16 years because Gebru’s exit “extinguished my desire to continue as a Googler,” he said in a letter seen by Reuters.

“We cannot say we believe in diversity, and then ignore the conspicuous absence of many voices from within our walls.”

Software engineer Vinesh Kannan said Wednesday on Twitter that he had left the company on Tuesday because Google mistreated Gebru and April Christina Curley, a recruiter who has said she was wrongly fired last year. Both Gebru and Curley identify as Black.

“They were wronged,” Kannan said.

Google declined to comment, but pointed to previous statements that it is looking to restore employees’ trust after Gebru’s departure and that it disputes Curley’s accusation.

The resignations come as workers have demanded commitments to academic freedom and management change in Google’s research organization. More than 800 people joined a union announced last month to advance workplace protections, and more than 2,600 of its 135,000 employees signed a December letter supporting Gebru.

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David Baker, whose resignation letter was shared with an internal affinity group for black employees, told journalists at our partner news agency Reuters that he stood by his remarks.

Kannan did not have an immediate comment.

Gebru, who co-led a team on artificial intelligence ethics, says she pushed back on orders to pull research that speech technology like Google’s could disadvantage marginalized groups. We reported back in December of last year that Google had told some staff not to cast the company and its tech in a negative light.

The team at Platform Executive hope you have enjoyed this news article. Translation from English to other languages via Google Cloud Translation. Initial reporting via our official content partners at Thomson Reuters. Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin and Paresh Dave. Editing by Jonathan Weber and Gerry Doyle.

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