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Google’s co-lead of Ethical AI team says she was fired for sending an email

Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher and voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, says Google fired her for an email she sent to her direct reports. According to Gebru, Google fired her because of an email she sent to subordinates that the company said reflected “behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of […]

Timnit Gebru, a leading researcher and voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence, says Google fired her for an email she sent to her direct reports.  According to Gebru, Google fired her because of an email she sent to subordinates that the company said reflected “behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

Gebru, the co-leader of Google Ethical Artificial Intelligence team, took to Twitter last night, shortly after the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Google alleging surveillance of employees and unlawful firing of employees.

I was fired by @JeffDean for my email to Brain women and Allies. My corp account has been cutoff. So I've been immediately fired :-)

— Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) December 3, 2020

Gebru says no one explicitly told her she was fired, but that she received an email from one of her boss’s reports, saying:

“Thanks for making your conditions clear. We cannot agree to #1 and #2 as you are requesting. We respect your decision to leave Google as a result, and we are accepting your resignation.”

That email, according to Gebru, went on to say that “certain aspects of the email you sent last night to non-management employees in the brain group reflect behavior that is inconsistent with the expectations of a Google manager.”

I said here are the conditions. If you can meet them great I’ll take my name off this paper, if not then I can work on a last date. Then she sent an email to my direct reports saying she has accepted my resignation. So that is google for you folks. You saw it happen right here.

— Timnit Gebru (@timnitGebru) December 3, 2020

It’s not clear what exactly was contained in the email. We’ve reached out to both Gebru and Google for comment.

As Bloomberg reported, Gebru has been outspoken about the lack of diversity in tech as well as the injustices Black people in tech face. According to Bloomberg, Gebru believes Google let her go to signal to other workers that it’s not ok to speak up.

Gebru is a leading voice in the field of ethics and artificial intelligence. In 2018, Gebru collaborated with Joy Buolamwini, founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, to study biases in facial recognition systems. They found high disparities in error rates between lighter males and darker females, which led to the conclusion that those systems didn’t work well for people with darker skin.

Since Gebru’s announcement, she’s received an outpouring of support from those in the tech community.

To be bold, to be honest, to know your worth, to speak up for others, to do the thankless work, to pioneer the way, to suffer no fools, to be all they could only wish to be, wrapped in black womanhood is an affront to those who would rather see us cower than own our power 1/n

— Joy Buolamwini (@jovialjoy) December 3, 2020

I thought this was a joke because it seemed ridiculous that anyone would fire @timnitGebru given her expertise, her skills, her influence. This is one of the many times when I think there is just no hope for the tech industry. https://t.co/2Px7nkObke

— Ellen K. Pao (@ekp) December 3, 2020

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