Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologizes for Timnit Gebru controversy but not her firing


Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressed the controversial departure of AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru in an electronic mail to employees on Wednesday. “We have to settle for accountability for the truth that a outstanding Black, feminine chief with immense expertise left Google unhappily,” he wrote. Information of the e-mail was first published by Axios.

Whereas Pichai didn’t say Gebru was fired as she and lots of others have claimed, he promised to evaluation the steps that led to her leaving the corporate. “We have to assess the circumstances that led as much as Dr. Gebru’s departure, inspecting the place we might have improved and led a extra respectful course of,” he wrote.

He additionally apologized for the way Gebru’s departure had “led some in our neighborhood to query their place at Google” and promised to think about “de-escalation methods” for the longer term.

On Twitter, Gebru wrote the notice was removed from an apology.

Final week, Gebru tweeted that the corporate had abruptly fired her over an email she sent to the Brain and Women Allies listserv. Within the electronic mail, she voiced frustration on the firm attempting to get her to retract a research paper on the risks of large language processing models.

The e-mail led to a dialog between Gebru and higher-ups at Google Analysis. Gebru requested for sure circumstances to be met to ensure that her to remain on the firm, together with figuring out the main points of who had requested for her paper to be retracted. One of many managers, Megan Kacholia, mentioned the corporate couldn’t meet these circumstances and preemptively accepted her resignation.

Google’s head of AI, Jeff Dean, published a note explaining why Gebru’s paper hadn’t met the corporate’s requirements. He mentioned it had been submitted for evaluation a day earlier than the deadline when the corporate sometimes requires two weeks.

But Gebru’s own team pushed back on this assessment, writing in a blogpost that the publication evaluation coverage was utilized “erratically and discriminatorily.” An inner evaluation reviewed by The Verge confirmed that the majority publication approvals occur proper earlier than the deadline, and 41 p.c occur after the deadline. “Quite a few papers are permitted for publication submission with out assembly this ‘requirement,’” the workforce wrote.

On December 4th, the Google Walkout Medium account published a petition protesting Gebru’s firing. It was signed by 2,278 Google workers and three,114 business allies.

Learn Pichai’s full electronic mail right here:

Hello everybody,

One of many issues I’ve been most pleased with this yr is how Googlers from throughout the corporate got here collectively to deal with our racial fairness commitments. It’s onerous, essential work, and whereas we’re steadfast in our dedication to do higher, we have now rather a lot to study and enhance. An essential piece of that is studying from our experiences just like the departure of Dr. Timnit Gebru.

I’ve heard the response to Dr. Gebru’s departure loud and clear: it seeded doubts and led some in our neighborhood to query their place at Google. I wish to say how sorry I’m for that, and I settle for the accountability of working to revive your belief.

First – we have to assess the circumstances that led as much as Dr. Gebru’s departure, inspecting the place we might have improved and led a extra respectful course of. We’ll start a evaluation of what occurred to establish all of the factors the place we will study — contemplating all the pieces from de-escalation methods to new processes we will put in place. Jeff and I’ve spoken and are absolutely dedicated to doing this. Among the best facets of Google’s engineering tradition is our honest want to know the place issues go unsuitable and the way we will enhance.

Second – we have to settle for accountability for the truth that a outstanding Black, feminine chief with immense expertise left Google unhappily. This loss has had a ripple impact by way of a few of our least represented communities, who noticed themselves and a few of their experiences mirrored in Dr. Gebru’s. It was additionally keenly felt as a result of Dr. Gebru is an skilled in an essential space of AI Ethics that we should proceed to make progress on — progress that depends upon our means to ask ourselves difficult questions.

It’s extremely essential to me that our Black, girls, and underrepresented Googlers know that we worth you and also you do belong at Google. And the burden of pushing us to do higher shouldn’t fall in your shoulders. We began a dialog collectively earlier this yr once we announced a broad set of racial fairness commitments to take a contemporary take a look at all of our programs from hiring and leveling, to promotion and retention, and to deal with the necessity for management accountability throughout all of those steps. The occasions of the final week are a painful however essential reminder of the progress we nonetheless must make.

This can be a prime precedence for me and Google leads, and I wish to recommit to translating the power that we’ve seen this yr into actual change as we transfer ahead into 2021 and past.

— Sundar





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