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Google losing grip on AI ethics team with latest high-profile resignation

by Ben Wodecki
Article ImageSamy Bengio to leave at the end of April amid controversial restructuring

A prominent AI researcher at Google has become the latest employee to resign following the controversial firing of two members of the company’s AI ethics team.

Samy Bengio, Canadian computer scientist who co-founded the Google Brain project and led its AI ethics group, announced his resignation earlier this week, bringing an end to a 14-year career at the company.

Five down, more to go?

Bengio is responsible for more than 250 scientific papers on machine learning and related subjects. He was among the original authors of the Torch framework, which eventually became PyTorch, one of today's most popular machine learning tools.

Intriguingly, his older brother Youshua Bengio is also a world-famous machine learning researcher, often credited as one of the three ‘godfathers’ of deep learning.

Samy Bengio’s decision to leave Google came in response to the dismissal of his colleagues Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell – former co-leaders of Google’s ethical AI team.

Gebru was fired last December while working on a paper about the dangers of large language models, while Mitchell was terminated in February this year, reportedly after using a script to search her emails for evidence of discrimination against Gebru.

In a Facebook post last December, Bengio said he was “stunned” by the removal of Gebru, adding that he “always has been and will remain a strong supporter of her scientific work to make sure AI becomes a positive force for the minoritized.”

The firing of Gebru led two other Google engineers, David Baker and Vinesh Kannan, to resign in protest.

Following Gebru’s exit, the ethical AI team was placed under the wing of engineering leader Marian Croak, with the move reportedly reducing Bengio’s responsibilities.

He becomes the latest, and the largest name to come out in support of Gebru, with the AI expert ending his employment at Google at the end of April to pursue other career opportunities.

His resignation was announced via an email to colleagues, seen by Bloomberg, which does not detail the firings of either Gebru or Mitchell, but instead references the hardships of organizing a research team to promote positive uses of technology and a commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Bengio isn’t the only employee of an Alphabet product to be stepping down this week – as John Krafcik, the CEO of Alphabet’s self-driving car division Waymo announced his departure earlier this week.

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