Google employees demand a step aside after the ethicist’s dismissal document

FILE PHOTO: A Google sign is displayed at one of the company’s office complexes in Irvine, California, USA, July 27, 2020. REUTERS / Mike Blake / File Photo

(Reuters) – Staff of Google’s ethical AI research team demanded a vice president of the company Wednesday and committed to more academic freedom, escalating a confrontation with management following this month’s termination of scientist Timnit Gebru.

The staff called for Vice President Megan Kacholia to be removed from the team’s management chain after allegedly barring Gebru’s boss from the decision to fire her, according to an internal document seen by Reuters.

Gebru had questioned Google’s request for her to retract a paper describing the damage done by Google-like technology, and the company replied that it accepted her resignation.

The document also demanded an explanation of the dismissal, transparency in reviews of employee documents, and an investigation into how Google deals with complaints from employees about labor conditions, such as those Gebru raised during his stay with the company.

Separately, U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and seven other congressmen wrote a public letter to Google parent Alphabet Inc Chief Executive Sundar Pichai on Wednesday asking about plans to review Gebru’s resignation and research publishing policies.

The demands represent the latest in a string of deadlocks between Google and its critics, as 20,000 of its employees worldwide have left the track to protest how the search giant handled sexual harassment claims. The company then changed its policy.

Gebru gained fame as a co-founder of the nonprofit Black in AI and as the co-author of a groundbreaking article on bias in facial analysis technology. She co-led the internet company’s Ethical AI team, which, according to the staff document, was essential in educating the public about the impact of AI systems, even if it meant constructive criticism of Google.

Google and Kacholia did not immediately return a request for comment. It was unclear how many people made the demands, which followed a previous academic freedom petition that collected signatures from more than 2,600 people at the company.

Bloomberg previously announced the news.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin and Paresh Dave; Editing by Stephen Coates