Google has lost 2 ethical AI researchers to a research institute founded by ousted colleague Timnit Gebru

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Google has lost 2 ethical AI researchers to a research institute founded by ousted colleague Timnit Gebru
Timnit Gebru, co-lead of Google's ethical artificial intelligence teamKimberly White/Getty Images
  • Two senior Google researchers have quit to join a nonprofit led by a former colleague.
  • Alex Hanna and Dylan Baker will join Timnit Gebru, who left Google at the end of 2020.
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Two more members of Google's ethical AI team are leaving the company to join a nonprofit led by a former colleague.

On Wednesday, senior research scientist Alex Hanna and software engineer Dylan Baker revealed they had quit the tech giant to take on new roles at the DAIR (Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research) Institute, founded by ethical AI researcher Timnit Gebru in 2021.

Gebru had been a technical co-lead at Google's ethical artificial intelligence team, but left in December 2020 amid an internal dispute about a research paper she co-authored on the potential for AI to reproduce human biases. Gebru said she was fired over a separate email, Google maintains that she resigned. Her departure sparked an internal storm and a reshuffle at Google's ethical AI team. Google later fired the other team c0-lead, Margaret Mitchell, triggering a series of resignations.

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A year after being ousted, Gebru announced she was launching DAIR, a nonprofit dedicated to scrutinizing Big Tech companies' use of AI technology. Hanna will take on the role of director of research, while Baker is joining as an engineer and researcher.

In a 1,400 word blog post, Hanna criticized the tech giant's treatment of Gebru and her fellow team leader Margaret Mitchell – who was also fired by the company – saying she admired both of her former bosses "in spite of the culture of Google."

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"Google's toxic problems are no mystery to anyone who's been there for more than a few months, or who have been following the tech news with a critical eye," she wrote.

Highlighting past accounts of alleged racism and sexism at the company, its alleged history of union-busting activity, and the use of its technology by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Hanna said Google was one among many "terrible places to work for people of color."

In a separate blog post also published on Wednesday, titled "On Leaving Google", Baker said he was "standing among people who've put their careers on the line to speak up."

"Google leadership has made it clear that there is simply no reason to let employees impact the direction of the company if that direction deviates from ravenous, short-sighted consumption and growth at any cost," he wrote.

Others who have quit in the wake of Gebru's firing have publicly criticized its actions. Gebru's firing played a direct role in the formation of the Alphabet Workers Union, the first white-collar tech union in Silicon Valley.

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"We appreciate Alex and Dylan's contributions — our research on responsible AI is incredibly important, and we're continuing to expand our work in this area in keeping with our AI Principles," a Google spokesperson said.

"We're also committed to building a company where people of different views, backgrounds and experiences can do their best work and show up for one another."

Do you work at Google? Got a tip? Contact reporter Martin Coulter via email at mcoulter@insider.com, or via encrypted messaging app Signal at +447801985586.

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