Google plans to double AI ethics team after fallout from staff departures

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Google plans to double the size of its artificial intelligence ethics team in the next few years, following controversy over Google's treatment of whistleblowers critical of its AI approach, according to a May 11 article by The Wall Street Journal.

The AI ethics team will grow to 200 researchers, and the team's operating budget will be increased, as well as be tasked with evaluating code and products to curb discrimination issues in AI.

Google's efforts to expand the team come after it fired the AI team's co-head, Margaret Mitchell, for allegedly sharing internal documents outside the company, as well as team member Timnit Gebru, who said she was fired for studies critical of Google's AI approach.

On May 10, diversity-focused AI groups released statements turning down funding from Google and calling for stronger whistleblower protections. The statements criticized Google for setting a "dangerous precedent for what type of research, advocacy and retaliation is permissible in our community."

Google's newly hired vice president of engineering, Marian Croak, PhD, called those exits a tragedy and said she is hoping to provide the AI team stability, according to the Journal. 

Dr. Croak said the team will focus on healthcare. The AI team assisted in developing an algorithm that detects abnormal heart rhythms by scanning fingertips. Her team uncovered that there were additional variabilities for darker-skinned users, which they addressed before releasing the product.

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