Timnit Gebru is one of the leading voices working on ethics in artificial intelligence. Her research has explored ways to combat biases, such as racism and sexism, that creep into AI through flawed data and creators. At Google, she and colleague Margaret Mitchell ran a team focused on the subject—until they tried to publish a paper critical of Google products and were dismissed. (Gebru says Google fired her; the company says she resigned.) Now Gebru, a founder of the affinity group Black in AI, is lining up backers for an independent AI research group. Calls to hold Big Tech accountable for its products and practices, she says, can’t all be made from inside the house.
The baseline is labor protection and whistleblower protection and anti-discrimination laws. Anything we do without that kind of protection is fundamentally going to be superficial, because the moment you push a little bit, the company’s going to come down hard. Those who push the most are always going to be people in specific communities who have experienced some of these issues.