April 20, 2021

AI manager at Google quits, signaling a potential mass exit after Timnit Gebru controversy


Google’s internal conflict with its AI team continues. The company has been under fire for how it handled the removal of two of its top AI researchers, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell. After dismissing a paper Gebru co-wrote criticizing some of the AI that Google uses throughout its best Android phones, the company allegedly fired her and then months later fired Mitchell who was actively supporting Gebru. It seems Google is losing another of its AI researchers, and it may signal a mass exodus from the company.

According to Bloomberg, Samy Bengio, who has been with Google since 2007, has just submitted his resignation from the company. Bengio oversaw the AI Ethics team and hundreds of AI researchers under Google Brain, at least until recently. Following the controversy of Timni Gebru’s firing and later Margaret Mitchell, Google restructured its AI team under the leadership of Marian Croak, which cut Bengio’s responsibilities on the team.

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Bengio wrote in an email that he is looking forward to his next opportunity:

While I am looking forward to my next challenge, there’s no doubt that leaving this wonderful team is really difficult….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.

Bengio has supported both Gebru and Mitchell in their struggle against Google and has voiced his support following Gebru’s dismissal. He is not the first to exit the company following the aftermath, and Mitchell noted on Twitter that his departure likely won’t be the last, as Google’s recent moves have led team members to seek employment elsewhere:

Google has previously stated that it plans to create a more inclusive work environment for its employees. Unfortunately, those changes are too little too late and came at the expense of two respected AI researchers. It highlights a big reason why the new Alphabet workers’ union is so important, because obviously the company can’t make meaningful changes on its own. Google may think it solved its problems following the controversy around Gebru’s departure, but it seems like its problems are only beginning.

Bengio’s last day will be April 28.

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