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This article was published on May 10, 2021

AI diversity groups snub future funding from Google over staff treatment

The fallout from Timnit Gebru's firing continues

AI diversity groups snub future funding from Google over staff treatment
Thomas Macaulay
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Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

Google’s AI ethics drama has taken another twist. Three groups working to promote diversity in AI say they will no longer accept funding from the search giant after a series of controversial firings at the company.

Queer in AI, Black in AI, and Widening NLP cited the dismissals of Timnit Gebru and Margaret, the former co-leads of Google’s Ethical AI team, as well as recruiter April Christina Curley, as reasons for the decision.

Ia joint statement issued on Monday, the groups said Google’s actions had “inflicted tremendous harm” and “set a dangerous precedent for what type of research, advocacy, and retaliation is permissible in our community.”

Until Google addresses the harm they’ve caused by undermining both inclusion and critical research, we are unable to reconcile Google’s actions with our organizational missions.We have therefore decided to end our sponsorship relationship with Google.

Gebru was sacked in December after a conflict over a research paper she co-authored about the dangers of large language models, which are crucial components of Google’s search products.

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Mitchell was fired three months later for reportedly using automated scripts to find emails showing mistreatment of Gebru, while Curley says she was terminated because the company was “tired of hearing me call them out on their racist bullshit.”

The three groups said Gebru and Mitchell’s exits had disrupted their lives and work, and also stymied the efforts of their former team. Curley’s departure, meanwhile, was described as “a step backward in recruiting and creating inclusive workplaces for Black engineers in an industry where BIPOC are marginalized and undermined.”

The groups urged Google to make the changes necessary to promote research integrity and transparency, as well as allow research that is critical of the company’s products.

They also called for the tech giant “to emphasize work that uplifts and hires diverse voices, honors ethical principles, and respects Indigenous and minority communities’ data and sovereignty.”

None of the organizations have previously rejected funding from a corporate sponsor. Wired reports that Queer in AI received $20,000 from Google in the past year, while Widening NLP got $15,000.

The trio joins a growing number of individuals and organizations who have spurned funding from Google over the company’s treatment of staff.

Five months after Gebru’s firing, the fallout continues to harm Google’s reputation for AI research.

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