Google AI chief Jeff Dean sparks cries of hypocrisy as he urges marginalized groups to work with its researchers: 'After what you did to Timnit?'

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  • Google's AI chief urged people from marginalized groups to link up with the tech firm's researchers.

  • Jeff Dean's tweet was seen as hypocritical due to the firm's spats with two ex-AI leads at Google.

  • Timinit Gebru, one ex-lead, cited a diversity report that showed attrition in minority women at Google.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Google's lead exec for artificial intelligence sparked an online backlash after encouraging students from historically marginalized groups to apply to a mentorship program at the company, despite an ongoing feud with his team's former ethics leads.

On Saturday, senior vice president of Google Research and Health Jeff Dean posted a tweet encouraging people from "historically marginalized groups" to apply to the firm's CSRMP (Computer Science Research Mentorship Program) scheme, which matches students with current Googlers in order to help them pursue their research interests. Dean said there were hundreds of researchers at Google AI who were "excited" to work with would-be candidates.

Jeff Dean deleted tweet
The tweet sent by Google's AI chief Jeff Dean. Twitter

But dozens of experts in the AI field jumped into Dean's replies to highlight Google's as-yet-unresolved spats with two of its own ex-senior artificial intelligence researchers.

Dean hit the headlines in December 2020 following a public fallout with the company's ethical AI co-lead Timnit Gebru, a Black woman, who claims she was fired after co-authoring a paper on the risks for the tech to reproduce human biases. Her team leader, Margaret Mitchell, was ousted two months later.

Ali Alkhatib, director of the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco, responded to Dean: "Jeff, it's been hardly more than 6 months since you fired Timnit and then Margaret for reasons that strained credulity & fell apart under the most basic scrutiny.

"You can't possibly seriously expect me or anyone else familiar with this matter to send people your way, can you?"

Julien Cornebise, a former team lead at Google's AI division DeepMind, also criticized Dean asking "how daft do you think people are?"

Meanwhile, Ayodele Odubela, founder and CEO of FullyConnected, a platform used to promote inclusion of Black professionals in AI, lashed out at Dean, writing: "Oh get the f*** out to there with that s***."

She added: "You cannot genuinely encourage marginalized students if you don't take accountability for unjustly firing Timnit."

Another anonymous user added: "After what you did to Timnit? I don't think so."

The hostility is indicative of the challenge Google faces in rebuiling trust among the AI community. Even those who work at Google have called for the firm to commit to "academic integrity" in the wake of Gebru and Mitchell's departures.

Gebru herself also responded, retweeting Dean with the words: "Have you seen your latest diversity report?" A recent internal study published by Google found that a growing proportion of Black, Native American, and Asian women had quit the company.

She added: "Do you remember us asking for 'mentorship'? Or is it that you know this doesn't do sh*t while continuing to destroy the #1 thing we asked for, psychological safety?"

Google's Dean later deleted the tweet, before going on to post an array of other machine learning and artificial intelligence programs.

Insider approached Google for comment.

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