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Google Employees Mobilize After Timnit Gebru Firing


rly 800 Google employees stood in solidarity for one of the company’s top female executives who was reportedly fired over a dispute regarding a research paper.


Timnit Gebru is considered a pioneer in the study of ethics in artificial intelligence. Gebru was the co-leader of the company's ethical AI team, and one of very few Black employees at the company overall. On Twitter, Gebru revealed that she was “immediately fired” for an email she recently sent to Google's Brain Women and Allies internal mailing list.


In the email, Gebru spoke about her experience as a Black woman at Google. She stated she felt "constantly dehumanized" and spoke about the lack of diversity within the company. Gebru emphasized that Google’s research division was only 14 percent female in 2020.


The research paper that prompted this was about the dangers of large language models — a growing trend in AI with the release of increasingly capable systems that can create impressively human-sounding text like recipes, poetry, and even news articles. She says that the paper was submitted to the Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency, and that there was nothing unusual about how it was submitted.


Gebru wrote the email after “a long back and forth” with Google AI leadership in which she was repeatedly told to retract the paper from consideration for presentation at the conference or remove her name from it.


Google workers launched the #ISupportTimnit campaign, accusing Google of “unprecedented research censorship.” Google employees demanded transparency over why the paper was rejected, and for the company to support research integrity and academic freedom. Google employees also utilized Twitter to express their frustration about Timnit’s firing.


Google has yet to provide a statement regarding Gebru’s firing or the immediate backlash.


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