Google fires another AI Ethics lead while promising to do better

Google has just fired its former AI Ethics lead, Margaret Mitchell, after conducting an internal investigation on actions it deemed violated its code of conduct (via Axios). She announced the dismissal in a tweet on Friday.

The development comes after Mitchell was locked out of her corporate account for a month while still employed at the company. She had attempted to search corporate email for examples of discrimination against former AI Ethics lead, Timnit Gebru, who was dismissed late last year following her criticism of Google’s AI technologies that are found in many applications and used in today’s best Android devices. Mitchell had used a script to automatically search through thousands of files to help prove Google’s mistreatment of Gebru, something that was discovered by the company thus prompting it to lock her out of her account.

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Google conducted an internal investigation on Mitchell following the lockout, which apparently concluded with her firing:

After conducting a review of this manager’s conduct, we confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees.

Meanwhile, Google recently announced that it was restructuring its AI teams under a new overseer, Marian Croak, an executive at the company who was involved in the aftermath of Timnit Gebru’s firing. Gebru saw the move as an example of gaslighting while effectively assigning Black women as “interchangeable”. Gebru was also not particularly pleased to learn of Google’s new policy changes that were reported by Axios, in which the company will “tie pay for those at the vice president level and above partly to reaching diversity and inclusion goals,” among several other policies to try to foster a more inclusive work environment.

While Google’s internal investigation of Timnit Gebru’s dismissal may be over, the situation has caused much friction within the company from employees who had come to her defense. At one point, Google was sent a list of demands from employees, asking to make policy changes within the company and to reinstate Gebru at a higher position. Employees have also expressed that the company’s moves continue to blindside them, such as the recent decision to restructure the AI teams under one person or a policy change last summer that advised employees to try to “strike a positive tone” in their papers.

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