Timnit Gebru is one of the few Black women researchers in artificial intelligence. Her personal experience was confronted with the prejudices that persist in the company that maintains the digital monopoly, Google.
Having been a co-leader of Google’s A.I. Ethics team, Gebru said on Twitter Wednesday night that she was fired because of an email sent the day before to a group that included company employees.
According to the New York Times, Gebru expressed in the email her exasperation at Google’s response to her and other employees’ efforts to increase minority hiring and draw attention to bias in artificial intelligence.
“Your life starts getting worse when you start advocating for underrepresented people. You start making the other leaders upset,” the email read. “There is no way more documents or more conversations will achieve anything.
At a time in civilization when digital life controls social dynamics, the responsibility of a company that dominates the algorithms and distribution of information is by no means a minor one.
Gebru’s exit from Google demonstrates the risk that still exists in the way the technological system is structured behind the scenes.
“Her firing only indicates that scientists, activists, and scholars who want to work in this field – and are Black women – are not welcome in Silicon Valley,” said Mutale Nkonde, a fellow with the Stanford Digital Civil Society Lab, to the Times. “It is very disappointing.
A Google spokesman declined to comment. In an email sent to Google employees, Jeff Dean, who oversees Google’s A.I. work, including that of Dr. Gebru and her team, called her departure “a difficult moment, especially given the important research topics she was involved in, and how deeply we care about responsible A.I. research as an org and as a company.”
As concluded by the Times, the evolution of Google’s work environment has gone from an “anything-goes” environment to implementing new restrictions, breaking with the tradition of transparency and free debate, even going so far as to monitor its employees before dismissing them.
Gebru’s firing adds to a string of scandals involving racial inequality, employee abuse, the handling of sexual harassment, and Google’s work with the Department of Defense and federal border agencies.
If the work of these researchers continues to be hampered, artificial intelligence risks perpetuating stereotypes and prejudices, copying its creators in their image.
With information from the New York Times.