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Google fires Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of its Ethical AI team

Google has fired Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of the ethical AI team, after she used an automated script to look through her emails in order to find evidence of discrimination against her coworker Timnit Gebru.

Last December, Gebru was fired from Google after she tried to be outspoken about unethical AI. This prompted some 225 Google employees to club together to create a union, in the hope of preventing further unfair dismissal and protecting employee rights. Mitchell was a member of said union, but that hasn’t stopped Google finding evidence of misconduct and firing her from the Ethical AI team.

Mitchell joined Google in 2016 as a senior research scientist, according to her LinkedIn. Two years later, she helped start the ethical AI team alongside Gebru, a renowned researcher known for her work on bias in facial recognition technology.

In December 2020, Mitchell and Gebru were working on a paper about the dangers of large language processing models when Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain, asked that the article be retracted. Gebru pushed back, saying the company needed to be more open about why the research wasn’t acceptable. Shortly afterwards, she was fired, though Google characterized her departure as a resignation.

In a statement provided to Axios, Google said: “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.”

The company has also tweaked how it handles research, diversity, and employee exits following an internal investigation into Gebru’s departure.

Google announced that Marian Croak, a vice president in the engineering organization, is now responsible for keeping AI development on the straight-and-narrow. Croak has created and will lead “a new center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research.” Whether Croak and her team will be truly free to question the company’s actions, however, remains to be seen.

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