Google fires top ethical AI expert Margaret Mitchell

The tech giant claims Mitchell violated staff codes of conduct.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Margaret Mitchell [right], was fired on the heels of the removal of Timnit Gebru. 

Google has fired the co-lead of the company's ethical AI unit, Margaret Mitchell, on the heels of the removal of Timnit Gebru. 

Mitchell, an ethical artificial intelligence (AI) expert who has previously worked on machine learning bias, race and gender diversity, and language models for image capture, was hired by Google to co-lead the firm's Ethical AI team with Gebru -- a post that has lasted roughly two years, as noted by Reuters

On Friday, Mitchell announced her departure in a tweet, simply saying "I'm fired."  

Google said in a statement that following a review, "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."

Mitchell has been the subject of an investigation by Google and was locked out of her corporate account for roughly five weeks. Reports suggest that the scientist may have been looking for correspondence and evidence relating to Gebru's removal.

Gebru, the other lead AI researcher, left Google in December. Gebru claimed that she was fired due to her criticism of Google for "silencing marginalized voices" and her status as a co-author of a research paper urging tech giants to make sure AI language systems do not promote gender bias. Google claimed the AI expert resigned. 

The ousting of the AI expert caused an uproar among thousands of Google staffers, and Gebru supporters claimed that she "faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing." 

"The termination is an act of retaliation against Dr. Gebru, and it heralds danger for people working for ethical and just AI -- especially Black people and People of Color -- across Google," the post reads

Mitchell has previously criticized the situation, saying in a public letter that "the firing seems to have been fueled by the same underpinnings of racism and sexism that our AI systems, when in the wrong hands, tend to soak up."

"Firing [Gebru] created a domino effect of trauma for me and the rest of the team, and I believe we are being increasingly punished for that trauma," Mitchell added in a tweet on the same day, but prior to, her statement concerning dismissal. 

Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for how the company handled Gebru's removal and promised to work to "restore the trust" of employees outraged by the incident. However, the firing was still cited as one of the reasons for the creation of the Alphabet Workers Union in January

On Friday, Google said an internal investigation into Gebru's departure has concluded and the company will change its policies as a result, including enacting "new procedures around potentially sensitive employee exits" and, in some cases, linking pay to diversity goals. 

According to a memo seen by Axios, Google AI head Jeff Dean also apologized for the way Gebru's departure was dealt with, saying that "we could have and should have handled this situation with more sensitivity."

"To everyone I've worked with closely for 4 years, I've loved you as work family, thank you for working w/ & believing in me," Mitchell tweeted on Monday. "I tried to raise concerns about race & gender inequity, and speak up about Google's problematic firing of Dr. Gebru."

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