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Google’s AI chief apologizes for Timnit Gebru’s terrible outcome

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Google will begin evaluating executives based on workforce diversity goals and increase human resources by admitting guilt in its fierce division with Timnit Gebru, a prominent former employee and one of the few black women in the field of artificial intelligence. Sundar Pichai, CEO of the parent company Alphabet, described the changes in an email to employees, said a source familiar with the situation, who asked not to be identified while discussing non-public information. The email included comments from Jeff Dean, CEO who leads the artificial intelligence and research company’s efforts, saying he regretted the way he handled Gebru’s exit, according to a copy of the message reviewed by Bloomberg.

“I understand that we could and should have dealt with the situation more sensitively,” Dean wrote. “And for that, I’m sorry,” Dean said Google Gebru’s behavior hurt some women and black employees and made them wonder if they belonged to the company. He did not apologize directly to Gebru in an email to staff.

Executives’ performance appraisals will now be partially tied to diversity, fairness, and inclusion goals, and Google will double the number of staff working to retain employees, according to the note.

A Google spokesman declined to comment. The changes were announced earlier on Friday by the news site Axios.

Several large companies have made diversity a factor in executives’ performance and compensation. These include McDonald’s and Microsoft.

The changes in Google came after the turmoil resulting from Gebru’s departure. She said she was fired in December after refusing to withdraw a research article critical of Google’s key technology or remove Google’s authors from it. Google says Gebru, a former co-chair of ethical AI, has resigned. However, former colleagues expressed outrage at the company’s attitude to the issue.

On Thursday, the company appointed Marianne Croak as vice president of engineering, raising an experienced black woman to lead a new, centralized organization for responsible AI development. Additional changes outlined on Friday marked the completion of an internal investigation into Gebru’s departure.

Dean also detailed a plan to clarify the process for approving scientific articles by Google authors for external publication. The current process has too many intersections, especially for “sensitive” research, he said, and what is considered sensitive is not always clear.

“We’re building a more unified process from start to finish with clearer guidelines along the way about who needs to be responsible, who is responsible for each step, and Google’s research goals and priorities,” Dean wrote.

Dean did not address the questions raised by Gebru’s example as to whether Google’s artificial intelligence ethics team will be able to critically examine the very technologies that the search and advertising giant uses in its commercial products.

© 2021 Bloomberg LP


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