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One of Google’s star AI researchers just left in a cloud of controversy. What happened?

Star AI researcher Timnit Gebru has a new paper highlighting problems with Google’s AI models. Did the company force her out for it?

December 7, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

Credit: Kimberly White / Stringer (Getty Images)

Google can’t get out of its own way.

Already facing an antitrust case (and labor dispute), the search giant is embroiled in a controversy with Timnit Gebru, a star AI researcher who was forced out of the company last week.

A champion of diversity in tech, Gebru’s previous research notably discovered gender and skin-type bias in facial recognition technology.

Gebru flagged issues with Google’s large language models

According to the MIT Technology Review, these models — AIs trained on staggering amounts of text data — are “key to Google’s business.”

Here are some of Gebru’s latest research findings:

Did Google want to suppress these findings?


Many AI ethicists believe Google “pushed her out because of the inconvenient truths that she was uncovering about a core line of its research” writes the MIT Technology Review.

A letter in support of Gebru has been signed by 1.5k+ Google employees and 2.1k+ academics in the AI field.

(Read more: Tech writer Casey Newton shared the email exchange between Gebru and her boss, Jeff Dean, that led to her departure.)

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