Google fires top AI ethicist 2 months after co-leader's ousting, leaving its ethical AI team headless

Google fires top AI ethicist 2 months after co-leader's ousting, leaving its ethical AI team headless
Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Google backed out Project Maven, a controversial AI project with the Pentagon, but has continued working with the agency.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • Google has fired another AI ethics researcher for what it says were "multiple violations" of its rules.
  • The researcher, Margaret Mitchell, was a co-lead of Google's ethical AI team.
  • Mitchell announced the news on Twitter by simply writing "I'm fired."

Google has fired Margaret Mitchell, the founder and former co-lead on its ethical AI team, following an extended investigation that has kept Mitchell locked out of her corporate account since January.

It means both leaders on Google's ethical AI team now say they have been fired, leaving the future of the group unknown.

Mitchell announced the news on Twitter on Friday by simply writing "I'm fired." Google confirmed Mitchell was fired in a statement to Insider.
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In January, Google blocked Mitchell's corporate access for downloading and sharing emails related to the departure of Timnit Gebru, the AI ethicist - and Mitchell's former co-lead of the ethical AI team - who said she had been fired from Google in December.

"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," a Google spokesperson told Insider on Friday.

Read more: Firings, reorgs and flaring tensions: Inside the last 2 months of turmoil at Google's AI division
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Mitchell and her team were told that she had been fired at the same time, according to a Google employee who requested anonymity because they were unauthorized to speak to the press.

The news comes just a day after Google reorganized its AI division, appointing engineering VP Marian Croak to oversee its work in responsible AI research. On Friday, the company also said it had completed its investigation into Gebru's exit, and announced a series of new policies to increase staff retention and boost diversity and inclusion, Axios first reported.
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Google may have hoped these moves would quell weeks of unrest in its AI division, but Mitchell's firing is likely to further rankle many employees.

"Three months ago Google had two ethics co-lead," tweeted Alex Hanna, a senior research scientist on the ethical AI team, after Mitchell announced her firing. "It has fired both and is running a smear campaign against them, to boot."

Are you a current or former Googler with more to share? You can contact this reporter securely using the encrypted messaging app Signal (+1-628-228-1836) or encrypted email (hslangley@protonmail.com). Reach out using a nonwork device.
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