A prominent Google (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report artificial-intelligence researcher said she was fired over an email she authored expressing dismay with management and the way it handled a review of her research.
In a tweet, Timnit Gebru, 37, who is Black, claimed she was fired from Alphabet-owned Google for refusing to retract a research paper that said AI discriminates against darker-skinned people, and complained about the company in an email to colleagues.
She also criticized Google over its approach to hiring minorities and not doing enough to stamp out biases in AI systems. Gebru, a renowned scientist and one of the few Black women in the field of artificial intelligence, had been co-head of the team at Google examining the ethical ramifications of AI.
The email itself, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, began with "Hi friends," and then proceeded to criticize her superiors, alleging among other things that Google executives quashed her research and ignored her feedback on issues like the proportion of female employees in the company.
Gebru's firing ignited a critical response from academics, researchers and others to Google’s AI division, led by software engineer Jeff Dean, including many Google employees.
“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,” wrote a group of hundreds of academics and researchers in an open letter.
Dean, in an internal email, told staff that an internal team determined that Gebru's most recent AI research was insufficiently rigorous. He also said she encouraged colleagues not to participate in Google's diversity, equity and inclusion programs, the Journal reported.
The Journal reported that Gebru was an outspoken critic of tools used by law enforcement to predict and prevent crimes, having said she found that they discriminated against darker-skinned people. For example, she published widely disseminated research showing that facial recognition algorithms are more likely to misidentify people of color.
Shares of Alphabet were down 0.05% at $1,820.84 in trading on Friday.