Google AI Research Manager Quits After Two Ousted From Group

Google research manager Samy Bengio, who oversaw the company’s AI ethics group until a controversy led to the ouster of two female leaders, resigned on Tuesday to pursue other opportunities.

Bengio, who managed hundreds of researchers in the Google Brain team, announced his departure in an email to staff that was obtained by Bloomberg. His last day will be April 28. An expert in a type of AI known as machine learning, Bengio joined Google in 2007.

Ousted Ethical AI co-leads Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell had reported to Bengio and considered him an ally. In February, Google reorganized the research unit, placing the remaining Ethical AI group members under Marian Croak, cutting Bengio’s responsibilities.

“While I am looking forward to my next challenge, there’s no doubt that leaving this wonderful team is really difficult,” Bengio wrote in the email. He did not refer to Gebru, Mitchell or the disagreements that led to their departures. Google declined to comment.

In November, Bengio’s then-manager Megan Kacholia met with Gebru to demand she retract a paper co-written with Mitchell and other Google researchers that criticized an AI technology powering some of Google’s search results. In early December, Google dismissed Gebru in what she termed a firing and Google has called an acceptance of her resignation. In February, the company fired Mitchell.

“The resignation of Samy Bengio is a big loss for Google,” tweeted El Mahdi El Mhamdi, a scientist at Google Brain who said Bengio helped build “one of the most fundamental research groups in industry since Bell Labs, also one of the most profitable ones.”

“I learned so much with all of you, in terms of machine learning research of course, but also on how difficult yet important it is to organize a large team of researchers so as to promote long term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion,” Bengio wrote in his email.

Prior to joining Google, Bengio co-developed Torch, an open-source framework and package of tools for developing machine-learning algorithms. At Google, he was part of the TensorFlow team, building a rival offering that surpassed Torch in popularity.

Facebook Inc. researchers used his earlier work for its PyTorch library of AI tools. Bengio also published research in areas like adversarial machine learning, which feeds false or misleading information to algorithms to try to trick or corrupt them.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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