Our view: we cannot rely on tech monopolies for ethical guidance

Updated: Dec 22, 2020



Dr Timnit Gebru was dismissed as Staff Research Scientist and Co-Lead of Ethical Artificial Intelligence this month after outlining conditions to move forward following research censorship from Google. The dismissal was framed by Google's Jeff Dean (Senior Vice President and Head of Google Research) as a resignation despite Dr Gebru's own statements to the contrary. Google employees have also rallied behind Dr Gebru in a public Medium post and to reaffirm that this was a termination of her contract.

The conditions, which Dr Gebru listed in a tweet (below) were in reference to a paper on ethical considerations of large language models, particularly an over reliance on data from wealthy countries. This leads to racism and discrimination. The paper received formal approval from Dr Gebru's manager (who also expressed his disbelief at her sacking) before being "given a verbal directive to either retract the paper or pull [the authors] names."

Timnit Gebru

@timnitGebru

Easy. 1 Tell us exactly the process that led to retraction order and who exactly was involved. 2. Have a series of meetings with the ethical ai team about process. 3 have an understanding of research parameters, what can be done/not, who can make these censorship decisions etc.

For Hattusia we feel this highlights a prevailing problem of ethics research from large technology institutions.


Hattusia

@hattusia

We are saddened by the news that @TimnitGebru has been fired from Google. Timnit Gebru is at the forefront of an ethical movement in tech and a shining example for women and women of colour within the tech industry.
The swiftness of which she has been dismissed shows a clear lack of commitment and buy-in for tech ethics by Google.
To make progress within tech ethics we cannot rely on funding and research from organisations that can so easily shirk their responsibility to it.
Amongst many lessons, some of which will come out in time, we see Google’s dismissal of Gebru as highlighting the importance of independently funding research into the ethics of AI and the tech industry in general.
Tech ethics has to become an independent industry outside of large technology monopolies.



Isaac Tamblyn

@itamblyn


Until @Google changes their position about @timnitGebru, I'm listing http://google.com as a conflicted domain for paper reviews. If you aren't going to follow academic norms, I'm not going to peer-review your org's publications (which we all do for free). RT if you agree


Dagmar Monett @dmonett

... If corporations cannot respect academic freedom, then they shouldn't be allowed to send papers to, participate in (e.g. speaker, keynote) nor sponsor academic conferences. The latter should start including a *no censorship agreement* in their Code of conduct.

At the time of writing 2040 Googlers and 2658 academic, industry, and civil society supporters have signed a petition protesting Google's dismissal of Dr Timnit Gebru. Alice Thwaite, founder of Hattusia is one of the signatories. “Instead of being embraced by Google as an exceptionally talented and prolific contributor, Dr. Gebru has faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing”.


Google has shown they are unwilling to be self critical in the research they fund. "It was not in Google’s best interest to publish an academic paper that questions its own Google Search business". Their commitment to diversity has to encompass intellectual diversity too. If we are to see real progress in this field it must come from independent industry.


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