Fired Google AI Researcher: ‘They Wanted To Have My Presence, But Not Me Exactly’

Former Google AI Ethics Researcher Timnit Gebru
Kimberly White /Getty

In a recent interview, a former Google Artificial Intelligence Ethics researcher who was fired for refusing to retract an academic paper critical of the company’s AI technology has claimed that Google wanted the “idea” of her working at the company as a black, female researcher rather than the “reality” of her working there.

In an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition, former Google AI Ethics researcher Timnit Gebru discussed her recent firing from the company. Breitbart News reported earlier this month that Gebru alleges that she was approached by a manager at Google and asked to retract or remove her name from a research paper that she had coauthored as an internal review at Google found the contents of the paper objectionable.

The paper discussed ethical issues raised by advances in artificial intelligence working with language, an area of research that Google believes is important to the future of its business. Gebru objected to retracting the paper or removing her name from it, calling the practice unscholarly. A short time later she was fired by the Silicon Valley giant. A Google spokesperson alleges that she resigned and was not fired but declined to comment further.

Speaking to NPR, Gebru stated: “My theory is that they had wanted me out for a while because I spoke up a lot about issues related to black people, women, and marginalization. They wanted to have my presence, but not me exactly. They wanted to have the idea of me being at Google, but not the reality of me being at Google.”

This week, several of Gebru’s former colleagues wrote a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking that Gebru be reinstated stating that her departure from the company has “had a demoralizing effect on the whole of our team.” The employees also requested that they not be subject to retaliation for supporting Gebru, something which Google has repeatedly done in the past.

A recent complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleges that Google violated U.S. labor laws by spying on workers who were organizing employee protests before firing two of them. The complaint names two former Google employees, Laurence Berland and Kathryn Spiers, who were fired from the company in Late 2019 in connection with employee activism.

Berland was reportedly organizing protests against Google’s decision to work with IRI Consultants, a group known for its anti-union efforts, when he was fired for reviewing other employees’ calendars. The NLRB has now found that Google’s policy against employees viewing coworkers’ calendars is unlawful.

Following the protests, multiple other employees were fired but the NLRB investigation found that only the termination of Berland and Spiers violated labor laws. Berland said in a statement: “Google’s hiring of IRI is an unambiguous declaration that management will no longer tolerate worker organizing. Management and their union busting cronies wanted to send that message, and the NLRB is now sending their own message: worker organizing is protected by law.”

Discussing Gebru’s firing, former Google employee Ifeoma Ozoma commented: “There are serious concerns around her identity as a Black woman and the concerns she raised around diversity as being the main driver for both the firing and the way it was done and the speed.”

Linguist Emily Bender at the University of Washington, who was one of Gebru’s co-authors on her research paper, said that she sympathizes with Google researchers still at the company. “I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t have a chilling effect on people who are working there trying to work on this but now looking over their shoulder wondering, ‘When is something all of a sudden going to be retracted?’ and their work going to be basically taken away from them?”

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address


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