One of Google's leading AI researchers says she's been fired in retaliation for an email to other employees

One of Google's leading AI researchers says she's been fired in retaliation for an email to other employees
Timnit Gebru, co-lead of Google's ethical artificial intelligence teamKimberly White/Getty Images
  • Timnit Gebru, a technical co-lead of Google's ethical-artificial-intelligence team, said on Wednesday that she was fired by the tech giant.
  • She said she was terminated over an email sent to an internal company group. Gebru's reports were told she offered her resignation, but management jumped the gun, Gebru said.
  • Gebru said she was told that aspects of the email she sent were "inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager."
  • 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.

Timnit Gebru, a technical co-lead of Google's ethical-artificial-intelligence team, said in a series of tweets on Wednesday that she was fired by the tech giant.

Gebru is widely respected for her work examining bias in artificial intelligence and is a rare senior Black woman in the field.

She said she had been in discussions with Google over her resignation if the firm was unable to meet certain conditions. She didn't specify what these conditions were.
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"Apparently my manager's manager sent an email my direct reports saying she accepted my resignation. I hadn't resigned — I had asked for simple conditions first and said I would respond when I'm back from vacation. But I guess she decided for me," Gebru said.

Gebru said Google terminated her over a separate email she sent to an internal company group named Google Brain Women and Allies. She didn't share the contents of that email.

Gebru quoted the email she received from a senior manager informing her of her termination. It said Gebru's email to employees in the Brain group was "inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager."
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Here's the email as quoted by Gebru:

"Thanks for making your conditions clear. We cannot agree to #1 and #2 as you are requesting. We respect your decision to leave Google as a result, and we are accepting your resignation.

"However, we believe the end of your employment should happen faster than your email reflects because certain aspects of the email you sent last night to non-management employees in the brain group reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.

"As a result, we are accepting your resignation immediately, effective today. We will send your final paycheck to your address in Workday. When you return from your vacation, PeopleOps will reach out to you to coordinate the return of Google devices and assets."

Gebru also called out Google's AI chief, Jeff Dean, who oversees the entire division and who Gebru said would have likely signed off on the email sent to her on Wednesday. "He didn't like my email to a mailing list for women & allies at brain," she added. Gebru responded to Business Insider's request for comment by pointing to a tweet in which she said she needed to "proceed very carefully and talk to a lawyer asap." Google did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
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Gebru has become a renowned figure in the ethical-AI space whose work has explored algorithmic bias and the implications of data mining. Gebru also cofounded Black in AI, a collaborative community working to increase the number of Black people working in artificial intelligence.

As Gebru tweeted details of her termination on Wednesday, big names in AI and tech rallied around her.

"I thought this was a joke because it seemed ridiculous that anyone would fire @timnitGebru given her expertise, her skills, her influence," former Reddit CEO Ellen K. Pao tweeted. "This is one of the many times when I think there is just no hope for the tech industry."
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Alex Hanna, a researcher also working for Google's ethical-AI team, wrote on Twitter: "The amount of disrespect and straight-up gaslighting that @timnitGebru is at the receiving end from our employer right now is chilling. Google could be one of the research leaders on the social implications of AI and tech. But they're choosing to go the other way."

Gebru's tweets about her termination came hours after the US National Labor Relations Board alleged in a complaint that Google unlawfully interrogated, surveilled, and fired activist employees last year.

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