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Google AI team demands changes after Dr. Timnit Gebru's departure

Igor Bonifacic
·Contributing Writer
·2-min read

Two weeks after the departure of AI researcher Dr. Timnit Gebru, Google’s Ethical AI team has issued a list of demands to its management. In a letter obtained by NBC News and Bloomberg, the division calls for the removal of Megan Kacholia, vice president of engineering at Google, from the group’s reporting structure. “We have lost trust in her as a leader,” the team says of Kacholia, according to Bloomberg.

The team also calls for Google to bring back Gebru “at a higher level” than the one she had before her departure. They also asked that Kacholia and AI Chief Jeff Dean apologize to Gebru over their handling of the situation and that Google put in place a racial literacy training program for management.

“Google’s short-sighted decision to fire and retaliate against a core member of the Ethical AI team makes it clear that we need swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere,” the team says. The six-page letter was reportedly sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and several other executives, including Kacholia, on Wednesday. We’ve reached out to Google for comment, and we’ll update this article when we hear back from the company.

Gebru, who was the co-lead of Google’s Ethical AI team, said the company fired her at the start of December. Google, however, maintains she resigned. At the center of the disagreement is a paper Gebru and four of her colleagues co-wrote. Google says the research paper didn’t meet its bar for publication. In an email to her managers, Gebru says she suggested she would resign if the company didn’t meet specific demands. The company then cut off her email access and reportedly told her it had accepted her resignation.

Last week, Pichai said Google would conduct a review of what happened. The company is also under pressure from lawmakers to address the situation, with several senators, including Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, recently sending a letter to Pichai about the incident.