Apple, Inc. has hired a former Google AI scientist who resigned in protest against the firing of two employees from the Ethics division. Sammy Bengio, the ex-Google employee, will be in charge of a new AI team under John Giannandrea, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and AI Strategy.
Bengio was associated with the Google Brain research team since its inception and was involved in researching deep learning algorithms that are the founding blocs of AI systems for analyzing images, speeches, and similar data.
Bengio’s departure from Google followed the firings of the co-leaders of Google’s AI ethics team – Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell – in December and February, respectively. Bengio announced his exit from Google after nearly 14 years at the company. In his resignation letter, he said he was looking for “other exciting opportunities.”
The firing at Google of Gebru and Mitchell has created turmoil in the Mountain View company, with a lot of employees protesting the move. Mitchell and Gebru were a part of the ethics issues team in AI and had voiced concern about Google’s workplace diversity and approach to reviewing research. Bengio had expressed support for the pair.
Google said in a statement Mitchell violated the company’s code of conduct and security policies by moving electronic files outside the company. Gebru exposed bias in facial analysis systems in the unit. Gebru said Google fired her after she expressed reservations about the company’s move not to publish a study that said AI that mimics language could hurt marginalized populations. She also said she was discriminated against for being black. Mitchell, a co-author of the paper, publicly criticized the company for firing Gebru and undermining the credibility of her work.
Nearly 2,700 Google workers have signed a letter protesting the exit of the two employees. Following the firings, Google announced a restructuring of its AI teams. It has said it will change procedures before July for reviewing its scientists’ work.
Google has appointed Marian Croak, a person of color and a leader in internet audio technology, to consolidate and manage 10 teams studying issues such as racial bias in algorithms and technology for disabled individuals.
Croak said that it was time to address concerns among AI ethics researchers and mitigate the damage done to the Google brand. “Please hold me fully responsible for trying to turn around that situation,” she said.
The company is also bringing in a consulting firm for a racial equity impact assessment. The firm’s recommendations however hard, will be implemented.
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