Google employees dispute Jeff Dean, claim Timnit Gebru did not resign


Google senior fellow Jeff Dean speaks at a 2017 event in China.

Source: Chris Wong | Google

A group of current and former Google employees who started a petition supporting departed researcher Timnit Gebru is disputing an executive’s account of her departure.

In a blog post titled “Setting the Record Straight,” Gebru’s colleagues and petitioners¬†claim she did not resign, and point to inconsistencies in Google AI Chief Jeff Dean’s statements, including his contention that Google’s process for approving research papers requires two weeks. In fact, they claim, papers are often approved much more quickly than that, and Gebru’s paper had been approved through “standard processes” known as PubApprove.

“This is a standard which was applied unevenly and discriminatorily,” says the group, Google Walkout for Real Change.

Google did not immediately respond to request for comment on the latest blog post. The company has so far declined to comment on Gebru’s departure. Gebru has not responded to CNBC’s requests for comment.

Gebru, a well-known artificial intelligence researcher, was the technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical AI team and a vocal critic of tech companies’ treatment of Black workers. She tweeted last week that Google had abruptly fired her after a disagreement about a research paper that scrutinized possible bias in large-language AI models, which the company asked her to retract.

She reportedly asked for more details about who was demanding the retraction, and also sent an email to an internal group describing the incident and including general complaints about the treatment of minority workers at Google. After that, she says, the company suddenly cut off her corporate accounts and said it was “accepting [her] resignation immediately.”

As employees and industry leaders criticized the move, Dean reportedly told employees that he pulled the research paper because Gebru didn’t follow protocol for the paper and that it “ignored too much relevant research.” He added that Gebru resigned and that he was simply accepting her resignation.

Employees promptly took to Twitter, saying Dean’s explanations didn’t line up with their experiences.

“Dr. Gebru did not resign, despite what Jeff Dean (Senior Vice President and head of Google Research), has publicly stated. Dr. Gebru has stated this plainly, and others have meticulously documented it,” the Walkout group stated in Monday’s blog post. “Dr. Gebru detailed conditions she hoped could be met.”

Gebru’s conditions, according to the group, were that leadership provide: “transparency around who was involved in calling for the retraction of the paper, having a series of meetings with the Ethical AI team, and understanding the parameters of what would be acceptable research at Google.”

She then requested a longer conversation after her vacation, it stated.

The group also pushed back against Jeff Dean’s statement that Google’s research approval process takes two weeks.

“There is no hard requirement for papers to actually go through this review with two weeks’ notice,” the group stated in the blog post. “Numerous papers are approved for publication submission without meeting this ‘requirement'” it stated.

It also pushed back against Dean’s claim his leadership team had given Gebru feedback on her paper.

“No written feedback was provided from leadership, the authors were not given an opportunity to communicate about the verbalized concerns to anyone involved, and the authors were not provided with an opportunity to revise the paper in light of the feedback, despite the camera-ready deadline being over a month away,” the group stated.

Employees from Google and other organizations have been asking Google for answers about how it handled the departure of Gebru in an online petition that now has more than 3,000 signatures from employees and industry peers. Gebru’s manager Samy Bengio, who leads a team within Google Brain, said in a Facebook post over the weekend that he was “stunned”¬† by Gebru’s termination, adding “I stand by you, Timnit.”

WATCH: Renowned AI researcher says Google abruptly fired her, spurring industrywide criticism

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