Timnit Gebru

Timnit Gebru (Amharic: ትምኒት ገብሩ; born 1983/1984)[1] is an American[3] computer scientist who works on algorithmic bias and data mining. She is an advocate for diversity in technology and co-founder of Black in AI, a community of black researchers working in artificial intelligence.

Timnit Gebru
Gebru in 2018
Gebru in 2018
Born1982/1983 (age 38–39)[1]
Alma materStanford University
Known forAlgorithmic bias
Fairness in machine learning
Scientific career
FieldsComputer Science
InstitutionsMicrosoft Research
Google
Apple
Doctoral advisorFei-Fei Li

In December 2020, her employment with Google as technical co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team ended after higher Google managers asked her to either withdraw an as-yet-unpublished paper, or remove the names of all the Google employees from that paper[1] (that is, five of the six coauthors, leaving Emily M. Bender[4]). She requested to know the names and reasons of everyone who made that decision, and said she would work with Google on an employment end date after an appropriate amount of time if not provided with that information.[1][5][6] Google did not meet her request and terminated her employment immediately, saying they accepted her resignation. Google stated that the paper in question, titled "On the Dangers of Stochastic Parrots: Can Language Models Be Too Big?", ignored recent research that showed methods of mitigating the bias in those systems.[7][16] Her departure caused public controversy.

Early life and educationEdit

Gebru was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.[2] Her father died when she was five years old and she was raised by her mother.[17] Both her parents are from Eritrea. She eventually received political asylum in the United States.[18]

After completing high school in Massachusetts, she was accepted to study at Stanford University.[2] There she earned her Bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering.[19] Gebru worked at Apple Inc., developing signal processing algorithms for the first iPad.[20] Gebru earned her doctorate under the supervision of Fei-Fei Li at Stanford University in 2017. She used data mining of publicly available images.[21] She was interested in the amount of money spent by governmental and non-governmental organisations trying to collect information about communities.[22] To investigate alternatives, Gebru combined deep learning with Google Street View to estimate the demographics of United States neighbourhoods, showing that socioeconomic attributes such as voting patterns, income, race, and education can be inferred from observations of cars.[19] If the number of pickup trucks outnumbers the number of sedans, the community are more likely to vote for the Republican party.[23] They analysed over 15 million images from the 200 most populated US cities.[24] The work was extensively covered in the media, being picked up by BBC News, Newsweek, The Economist, and The New York Times.[25][26][27]

Gebru presented her research at the 2017 LDV Capital Vision Summit competition, where computer vision scientists present their work to members of industry and venture capitalists.[28] Gebru won the competition, starting a series of collaborations with other entrepreneurs and investors.[28] Both during her PhD program in 2016 and in 2018, Gebru returned to Ethiopia with Jelani Nelson's programming campaign AddisCoder.[29][30] After receiving her PhD, Gebru joined Microsoft as a postdoctoral researcher in the Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics in AI (FATE) lab.[24][31]

Career and researchEdit

 
Gebru discussing her findings that one can predict, with some reliability, the way an American will vote from the type of vehicle they drive.

Gebru worked at Google, where she was co-leading a team on the ethics of artificial intelligence with Margaret Mitchell. She studied the implications of artificial intelligence, looking to improve the ability of technology to do social good.[32] She collaborated with the MIT research group Gender Shades.[33] Gebru worked with Joy Buolamwini to investigate facial recognition software; finding that black women were 35% less likely to be recognised than white men.[34] When Gebru attended an artificial intelligence conference in 2016, she noticed that she was the only black woman out of 8,500 delegates.[35] Together with her colleague Rediet Abebe, Gebru founded Black in AI, a community of black researchers working in artificial intelligence.

Gebru also worked on Microsoft's Fairness, Accountability, Transparency, and Ethics in the AI team. In 2017, Gebru spoke on the Fairness and Transparency conference, where MIT Technology Review interviewed her about biases that exist in AI systems and how adding diversity in AI teams can fix that issue. In her interview with Jackie Snow, Snow asked Gebru, "How does the lack of diversity distort artificial intelligence and specifically computer vision?" and Gebru pointed out that there are biases that exist in the software developers.[36] In 2019, Gebru and other artificial intelligence researchers "signed a letter calling on Amazon to stop selling its facial-recognition technology to law enforcement agencies because it is biased against women and people of color", citing a study that was conducted by MIT researchers showing that Amazon's facial recognition system had more trouble identifying darker-skinned females than any other technology company's facial recognition software.[37] In a New York Times interview, Gebru has further expressed that she believes facial recognition is too dangerous to be used for law enforcement and security purposes at present.[38]

Exit from GoogleEdit

Gebru ceased working for Google in December 2020. The circumstances of her departure are disputed. Gebru and some of her co-workers claimed that she had been fired from Google.[1][39] Google executives Dr. Jeff Dean and Megan Kacholia claimed that she offered to resign and that her resignation was subsequently accepted by Google.[11][40][41] She stated that she never offered to resign immediately, only said she would talk to her manager about "a last date".[5]

Gebru had co-authored a paper on the risks of very large language models, regarding their environmental and financial costs, inscrutability leading to unknown dangerous biases, the inability of the models to understand the concepts underlying what they learn, and the potential for using them to deceive people.[15] In a mail sent to an internal collaboration list, Gebru describes how she was summoned to a meeting at short notice where she was asked to withdraw the paper and says that her subsequent inquiries into the identities of the reviewers as well as how or why the decision had been taken were ignored.[42] Gebru asked for certain conditions to be met in order to prevent her resignation, but Google's AI team was unwilling to meet those conditions and accepted her resignation on the same day.[43] Jeff Dean, Google's head of AI research, replied with an email saying that they made the decision because the paper ignored too much relevant recent research on ways to mitigate some of the problems described in it, about environmental impact and bias of these models.[42]

Following the controversy, Google CEO Sundar Pichai issued an apology without admitting wrongdoing.[44] Close to 2700 Google employees and more than 4300 academics and civil society supporters signed a letter condemning Gebru's alleged firing.[45] [46] In the aftermath, two Google employees resigned from their positions at the company.[47]

On 16 December 2020, Google's Ethical AI research team demanded that Vice President Megan Kacholia be removed from the team's management chain.[48] Kacholia had allegedly fired Dr. Gebru without notifying Gebru's direct manager Dr. Samy Bengio first.[49] Google's Ethical AI team also demanded Megan Kacholia and Google's chief of AI, Jeff Dean, apologize for how Dr. Gebru was treated.[50]

Nine members of Congress sent a letter to Google asking it to clarify the circumstances around Timnit Gebru's exit.[51]

The controversy led to allegations of an online harassment campaign against Gebru and her supporters, including alleged harassment by machine learning researcher Pedro Domingos and businessman Michael Lissack.[6][52][53]

Post-GoogleEdit

In June 2021, Gebru announced that she was raising money to "launch an independent research institute modeled on her work on Google’s Ethical AI team and her experience in Black in AI".[54] On 2 December 2021 she launched Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR), which is expected to document the effect of artificial intelligence on marginalized groups.[55][56]

AwardsEdit

Gebru, Joy Buolamwini, and Inioluwa Deborah Raji won VentureBeat's 2019 AI Innovations Award in the category AI for Good for their research highlighting the significant problem of algorithmic bias in facial recognition.[57][58] Gebru was named one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders by Fortune in 2021.[59] Gebru was included in a list of ten scientists who had had important roles in scientific developments in 2021 compiled by the scientific journal Nature.[60]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Gebru, Timnit; Krause, Jonathan; Wang, Yilun; Chen, Duyun; Deng, Jia; Aiden, Erez Lieberman; Fei-Fei, Li (12 December 2017). "Using deep learning and Google Street View to estimate the demographic makeup of neighborhoods across the United States". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 114 (50): 13108–13113. doi:10.1073/pnas.1700035114. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 5740675. PMID 29183967.
  • Buolamwini, Joy; Gebru, Timnit (2018). "Gender Shades: Intersectional Accuracy Disparities in Commercial Gender Classification". Proceedings of Machine Learning Research. 81: 1–15. ISSN 1938-7288.
  • Gebru, Timnit (9 July 2020). "Race and Gender". In Dubber, Markus D.; Pasquale, Frank; Das, Sunit (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Ethics of AI. Oxford University Press. pp. 251–269. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190067397.013.16. ISBN 978-0-19-006739-7.
  • Gebru, Timnit (1 August 2017). Visual computational sociology: computer vision methods and challenges (PDF) (Thesis).

ReferencesEdit

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  3. ^ Bass, Dina (2 December 2021). "Timnit Gebru's New Research Group Wants to Free AI From Its Corporate Ills". Bloomberg. Retrieved 30 December 2021. Gebru, who is Eritrean and fled Ethiopia in her teens during a war between the two countries, wants to research the impact of social media companies on regions where she feels not enough effort is being placed on preventing and removing dangerous content.
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  6. ^ a b Goforth, Claire (3 February 2021). "Men in tech are harassing Black female computer scientist after her Google ouster". Daily Dot. Gebru’s departure from Google, where she was co-lead of the ethical artificial intelligence (AI) team, was precipitated by a paper she co-authored. ... At the last minute, Google refused to allow the paper to be published with its name on it. Gebru drew a line in the sand, saying she’d only comply if certain conditions were met; otherwise, she’d resign, Technology Review reports. The company swiftly responded by saying it accepted her resignation.
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External linksEdit