“Google silences marginalized voices”. These comments made by Timnit Gebru, would be at the origin of his departure from the company.
At Google, Timnit Gebru was in charge of the team working on ethical issues in artificial intelligence.
Of Ethiopian origin, the young woman studied in the United States at Stanford University. Then she joined Microsoft and in parallel co-founded “Black in AI”. An organization that aims to increase the representativeness of black people in the field of artificial intelligence.
One of her studies, Gender Shades, is particularly noted. She denounces the biases of facial recognition algorithms, which are less efficient in recognizing people of color, in particular women. Subsequently it integrates Google.
Timnit Gebru claims her dismissal by Google follows email to group of people accusing Google “to silence marginalized voices.” According to his supporters, “Instead of recognition for her work, she had to face racism, suffocation, censorship of her research” they explain in an open letter.
However, following her writings, she would have received a letter from Google accepting her resignation, which she never announced according to her. Google then publicly broadened its criticisms, questioning the work of the researcher on the possible use of software. He was asked to withdraw his article, which officials said had not reached an acceptable level for publication.
The text “had significant flaws that made it difficult for us to feel comfortable using the Google name”, says Jeff Dean, head of Google’s Artificial Intelligence department. The criticism is sizable, concerning a person recognized for his expertise in the field of artificial intelligence.
A sufficiently important discomfort for Sundar Pichai, the boss of Google, to come out of his silence. If he did not recognize that the departure of the researcher from the company was a dismissal (which Timnit Gebru claims), he announces that the circumstances of her departure will have to be clarified. “We have to accept our responsibility that a prominent black leader, a woman of immense talent, has unfortunately left Google.”
A bit short in the eyes of defenders of Timnit Gebru, who were waiting for an apology. Because this case questions the overall policy of Google. “I can’t be sure that no drastic recommendation made by an article has been carefully pruned by someone at Google.” explains in the Guardian, Ali Alkhatib, researcher at the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco.
This also raises questions about the group’s ethics, which are increasingly challenged internally. Accusations of racism, sexual assault, employee surveillance are increasing. Is this ethics also the subject of debate on the company’s products? Products that are more and more intrusive in people’s lives.