Google continues to fire AI researchers amid criticism of their work. The New York Times learned that Google fired machine learning scientist Satrajit Chatterjee in March, shortly after he refused to publish a paper Chatterjee and others wrote questioning earlier findings that computers could design some chip components more effectively than the humans. The scientist was reportedly allowed to collaborate on a paper challenging those claims after he and other authors expressed reservations, but was fired after a resolution committee rejected the paper and researchers hoped to take the matter to CEO Sundar. Pichai and the Alphabet board.
The company has not detailed why it fired Chatterjee, but told the Times had been “dismissed for cause”. He also maintained that the original document had been “thoroughly vetted” and peer-reviewed, and that the study challenging the claims “did not meet our standards.”
Whether the science holds up or not, the outing underscores the ongoing standoff between Google’s management and the AI teams that drive many of its projects. The problems began in earnest when Google fired ethicist Timnit Gebru in 2020 following a dispute over an article, with two others following suit. The issue escalated when the internet giant fired Margaret Mitchell in early 2021. While Google claimed that Mitchell violated data confidentiality policies, it also publicly criticized executives and the decision to fire Gebru. These layoffs led veteran engineers to leave the company and demand reform, and that’s not including company-wide protests over military contracts. Google investigated Gebru’s firing and promised changes, but Chatterjee’s firing may not ease tensions.
It’s no secret that Google is proud of its AI research. It’s keen to tout algorithms that can outperform humans in fields like chip design and cancer detection, and its flagship Pixel 6 phones are built around a custom AI-focused processor. Any flaw could significantly hamper Google’s business, not to mention tarnish its reputation as a leader in AI development.
Update 5/2 4:26pm ET: google noted a tweet from Times reporter Daisuke Wakabayashi as an additional response. One of the authors of the original article claimed that Chatterjee harassed her and “disputed the work”, according to Wakabayashi. However, a lawyer for Chatterjee said her client was only trying to maintain “scientific integrity”.
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