Why Was Margaret Mitchell Terminated by Google? Timnit Gebru Episode Explained

Margaret Mitchell was apparently digging into the evidence of discrimination against Timnit Gebru, who was fired by Google in December last year

Margaret Mitchell, Google's co-lead of the ethical AI team, has been terminated from her job owing to her use of automated script intending to dig evidences of discrimination against Timnit Gebru, one of her colleagues in the company. Just the day before this shocking termination the company had broadcast a complete do-over of their AI team's working on ethics and fairness.

Marian Croak, a vice president in the engineering organization, will reportedly be presiding over and be responsible for "a new center of expertise on responsible AI within Google Research."

The Timnit Gebru Episode

Mitchell's LinkedIn profile states that her journey in Google started as a senior research scientist in 2016 and after two years of her service she, along with colleague Timnit Gebru, formed the ethical AI team. Timnit Gebru, a key character in this whole debacle, is a researcher well known for her illustrious works on bias in facial recognition technology.

Mitchell and Gebru started studying and working regarding the perils of large language processing models in December, 2020. However, all their works were discarded by Megan Kacholia, vice president of Google Brain and were also asked to be withdrawn. Gebru pushed the envelope and demanded to be served with more constructive reasons for discarding their research. The company, instead, handed her over with termination, which later was portrayed as a willful resignation.

Mitchell's Controversial Termination

Gebru's termination did not go well with Mitchell and she started explicitly criticizing Google executives, including Google AI division head Jeff Dean and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Consequently, in January this year, Google had initiated an investigation on Mitchell, taking back her corporate email access, which probably fueled the controversy more.

When asked about Mitchell's controversial termination Google reportedly reverted: "After conducting a review of this manager's conduct, we confirmed that there were multiple violations of our code of conduct, as well as of our security policies, which included the exfiltration of confidential business-sensitive documents and private data of other employees."

Margaret Mitchell
Margaret Mitchell https://www.m-mitchell.com/

Friday marked Google's public announcement about its forthcoming endeavors to amend its research and diversity policies after concluding the investigation of Gebru's termination. Jeff Dean has said to have expressed his regret to his staff members in an internal mail about the mishandling of Gebru's termination.

Reportedly he has also added that Gebru's unceremonious exit from the company made an impact on the female technologists, especially hailing from Black community and other underrepresented groups, who are pursuing careers in tech, and also on the members of the AI team, who has now started doubting their value in the company.

Since Gebru' exit, the entire ethical AI team took a blow. Senior researcher Alex Hanna said that the team got to know about Croak's appointment only after the public announcement. There clearly seems to be a discontent in the team regarding the appointment of Marian Croak, which was concealed from them and they were only asked to trust the process and the decision makers without putting a word of their own.