Google updates policies after probe into star AI researcher’s ousting – CNET

Angela Lang/CNET

Google on Friday said it wrapped up an internal investigation into its treatment of Timnit Gebru, a star artificial intelligence researcher who announced in December that she had been fired by the tech giant. 

The company said it worked with outside counsel for the investigation, but declined to share the findings of the probe. A spokeswoman did not answer specific questions about how the investigation was conducted. 

Following the review, Google said it will make changes to its human resource and diversity policies. The company said it will tie diversity goals to performance reviews of vice presidents and up. Google also said it’s doubling its team involved in employee retention. The company will consult HR specialists to deal with employee exits that could be controversial. Axios earlier reported the news.

The changes come as Google faces blowback over the exit of Gebru, who co-led Google’s Ethical AI group and is one of the few Black women in the field. Gebru said she was fired over a research paper that calls out risks for bias in AI, including in systems used by Google’s search engine. Gebru also emailed a group of Google employees, criticizing the company’s diversity and equity programs. 

Gebru’s departure has caused widespread outrage among Google’s rank-and-file workforce and around the broader tech industry. Nearly 2,700 Googlers have signed an open letter in support of Gebru, and members of Gebru’s former team at Google sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding she be reinstated.

The policy changes on Friday drew criticism from Gebru and her supporters. 

“I write an email asking for things, I get fired, and then after a 3 month investigation, they say they should probably do some of the things I presumably got fired asking for, without holding anyone accountable for their actions,” Gebru wrote on Twitter. In another tweet, she added, “There is ZERO accountability. ZERO.”

Gebru didn’t respond to a request for additional comment. 

The changes were announced a day after Google said it was restructuring its teams that focus on the responsible development of AI. The new team will be led by Marian Croak, a vice president of engineering at the tech giant. 

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