Having already fucked up in ousting an ethics researcher, Google doubles down

Google’s ouster of an artificial idiocy[1] ethicist, Timnit Gebru, likely for saying something other than that artificial idiocy is wonderful,[2] stunk to high heaven. Today, the ouster stinks even more.

Google’s head of artificial idiocy is apologizing for how Gebru’s ouster appeared—this is called a non-apology apology—and the company is reorganizing its artificial idiocy ethics team and changing some diversity-related human relations policies. The company is also “streamlining” its publication process;[3] it had claimed Gebru’s article on the application of artificial idiocy in language had not met Google’s standards.[4] All of this sounds like bullshit to me, but it turns out the ethics research team, which (along with thousands of other Google employees) had backed Gebru,[5] was kept in the dark about all of it,[6] Google has now fired a second researcher in the same area,[7] and it would further seem I’m not alone in my suspicion.[8]

Although it appears that Gebru’s now-also-fired co-lead in the artificial idiocy ethics research team, Margaret Mitchell, was investigating the possibility of discrimination against Gebru,[9] the core allegation remains that Gebru raised ethical concerns about artificial idiocy. Which is to say, she was doing her fucking job. It seems the company, in contrast, wanted more of a rah-rah approach.[10] This allegation appears to have been left unaddressed in what’s been made public.[11] Further, by firing Mitchell,[12] Google risks appearing to be attempting to cover up any discrimination against Gebru, as well as ethical issues with artificial idiocy itself, and the company further undermines an inherently weak non-apology apology.

Google, to say you fucked up here doesn’t even begin to cover it.

  1. [1]“Artificial intelligence” is a misnomer. David Benfell, “Our new Satan: artificial idiocy and big data mining,” Not Housebroken, January 13, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/01/13/our-new-satan-artificial-idiocy-and-big-data-mining/
  2. [2]Jeremy Kahn, “Google’s ouster of a top A.I. researcher may have come down to this,” Fortune, December 9, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/12/09/google-timnit-gebru-top-a-i-researcher-large-language-models/
  3. [3]Mitchell Clark and Zoe Schiffer, “After firing a top AI ethicist, Google is changing its diversity and research policies,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22291631/google-diversity-research-policy-changes-timnet-gebru-firing; Ina Fried, “Google tweaks diversity, research policies following inquiry,” Axios, February 19, 2021, https://www.axios.com/google-tweaks-diversity-research-policies-following-inquiry-8baa6346-d2a2-456f-9743-7912e4659ca2.html; Zoe Schiffer, “Google fires second AI ethics researcher following internal investigation,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22292011/google-second-ethical-ai-researcher-fired
  4. [4]Jeremy Kahn, “Google’s ouster of a top A.I. researcher may have come down to this,” Fortune, December 9, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/12/09/google-timnit-gebru-top-a-i-researcher-large-language-models/
  5. [5]Jeremy Kahn, “Google’s ouster of a top A.I. researcher may have come down to this,” Fortune, December 9, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/12/09/google-timnit-gebru-top-a-i-researcher-large-language-models/
  6. [6]Alex Hanna, [Twitter thread], Thread Reader App, February 18, 2021, https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1362476196693303297.html
  7. [7]Zoe Schiffer, “Google fires second AI ethics researcher following internal investigation,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22292011/google-second-ethical-ai-researcher-fired
  8. [8]Ina Fried, “Google tweaks diversity, research policies following inquiry,” Axios, February 19, 2021, https://www.axios.com/google-tweaks-diversity-research-policies-following-inquiry-8baa6346-d2a2-456f-9743-7912e4659ca2.html
  9. [9]Zoe Schiffer, “Google fires second AI ethics researcher following internal investigation,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22292011/google-second-ethical-ai-researcher-fired
  10. [10]Jeremy Kahn, “Google’s ouster of a top A.I. researcher may have come down to this,” Fortune, December 9, 2020, https://fortune.com/2020/12/09/google-timnit-gebru-top-a-i-researcher-large-language-models/
  11. [11]Mitchell Clark and Zoe Schiffer, “After firing a top AI ethicist, Google is changing its diversity and research policies,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22291631/google-diversity-research-policy-changes-timnet-gebru-firing; Ina Fried, “Google tweaks diversity, research policies following inquiry,” Axios, February 19, 2021, https://www.axios.com/google-tweaks-diversity-research-policies-following-inquiry-8baa6346-d2a2-456f-9743-7912e4659ca2.html
  12. [12]Zoe Schiffer, “Google fires second AI ethics researcher following internal investigation,” Verge, February 19, 2021, https://www.theverge.com/2021/2/19/22292011/google-second-ethical-ai-researcher-fired

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