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Another Google AI scientist has resigned following colleagues’ high-profile ousters

Samy Bengio's departure follows the controversial firings of top female researchers.

Apr 7, 2021, 10:38 am

Tech

 

Claire Goforth

Google research manager Samy Bengio, who formerly led the ethical artificial intelligence (AI) team, has announced his resignation.

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Bengio’s departure follows the controversial firings of the two women who previously co-led the ethical AI team, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, both of whom he strongly supported. Bengio’s last day is April 28, Bloomberg reports.

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In a farewell statement to his colleagues, Bengio reportedly said it was a difficult decision.

“I learned so much with all of you, in terms of machine learning research of course, but also on how difficult yet important it is to organize a large team of researchers so as to promote long term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity, and inclusion,”  he wrote, according to Bloomberg.

Gebru was fired in December following a dust-up with the company over a paper she co-authored that examined the risks of large language models, which range from environmental to discriminatory.

Her former co-lead on the ethical AI team, Mitchell, was fired in February after she used “a script to search her emails for evidence of discrimination against Gebru,” the Verge reports.

After Gebru’s removal, Bengio joined thousands of their colleagues publicly supporting her. In a public post on Facebook, Bengio said he was “stunned” by what had transpired.

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“I have always been and will remain a strong supporter of her scientific work to make sure that AI becomes a positive force for the minoritized, as well as her generosity and tireless actions to lift the voices of the silenced ones,” he wrote.

Subsequently, Google reorganized the research department, diminishing Bengio’s responsibilities, per Bloomberg.

Gebru was disappointed by the turn of events.

“This news of Samy’s resignation just reminds me of how easy it is to destroy something & how hard it is to build it,” she tweeted on Tuesday. “We worked so hard to improve the environment & we were starting to have some success after so much exhaustion. And in one swoop, just like that, gone.”

Also this month, Google shareholder Trillium Asset Management has begun pressuring the company to improve its whistleblower protections. In a shareholder resolution, the sustainable investment firm, which owns more than $100 million worth of shares in Google, referenced Gebru’s firing, as well as other scandals involving its treatment of employees who spoke out against it over the years.

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“Reporting suggests that many Google employees who have resigned or been fired, including executives, publicly report retaliation after voicing human rights implications of company practices, including systemic workplace racism and sexism, and projects enabling censorship, surveillance, and war,” Trillium wrote.

“These red flags suggest the potential for culture, ethics, and/or human rights problems internally,” it added.

Trillium is calling on Google to implement a third-party review of its whistleblower policies and to publish the report publicly.

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*First Published: Apr 7, 2021, 10:38 am