Google fires Margaret Mitchell, co-lead of its Ethical AI team

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A hot potato: Google has fired Margaret Mitchell—the co-lead of the company’s Ethical AI team—due to allegations of misconduct. Mitchell, a research scientist, joined Google in 2016 but had been placed on investigation in relation to the dismissal of another member of her team, Timnit Gebru.

Last December, Gebru was fired from Google after she tried to be outspoken about unethical AI. This prompted some 225 Google employees to club together to create a union, in the hope of preventing further unfair dismissal and protecting employee rights. Mitchell was a member of said union, but that hasn’t stopped Google finding evidence of misconduct and firing her from the Ethical AI team.

I’m fired.

— MMitchell (@mmitchell_ai) February 19, 2021

Gebru’s departure from Google was controversial. It came after Mitchell and Gebru wrote a paper about the dangers of large language processing models. Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain, reportedly asked for the article to be retracted. This lead to a standoff between Kacholia and Gebru, who argued that the company needed to be more open, transparent, and honest about why the technology could be dangerous.

Gebru lost the battle and was fired, although Google claimed she resigned.

Mitchell was openly critical of the move. Then in January, she lost access to corporate email when Google started investigating her activity. Google’s investigation found that Mitchell had moved files outside the company, and fired her for it.

In a statement provided to Axios, Google said: “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.”

The company has also tweaked how it handles research, diversity, and employee exits following an internal investigation into Gebru’s departure.

Google announced that Marian Croak, a vice president in the engineering organization, is now responsible for keeping AI development on the straight-and-narrow. Croak has created and will lead “a new center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research.” Whether Croak and her team will be truly free to question the company’s actions, however, remains to be seen.

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