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Parmy Olson

Can a Tiny AI Group Stand Up to Google?

Scientist Timnit Gebru has set up an AI research group one year after getting fired from Google, but she and others are fighting an uphill battle.

Timnit Gebru in 2018

Timnit Gebru in 2018

Photographer: Kimberly White/Getty Images North America

Artificial intelligence isn’t always so smart. It has amplified outrage on social media and struggled to flag hate speech. It has designated engineers as male and nurses as female when translating language. It has failed to recognize people with darker skin tones when matching faces.

Systems powered by machine learning are amassing greater influence on human life, and while they work well most of the time, developers are constantly fixing mistakes like a game of whack-a-mole. That mean's AI’s future impact is unpredictable. At best, it will likely continue to harm at least some people because it is often not trained properly; at worst, it will cause harm on a societal scale because its intended use isn’t vetted — think surveillance systems that use facial recognition and pattern matching.