Less than two years after Google fired two researchers who criticized biases built into artificial intelligence systems, the company has fired a researcher who questioned a paper it published about the abilities of a specialized type of artificial intelligence. intelligence used in the manufacture of computer chips.
The researcher, Satrajit Chatterjee, led a team of scientists to challenge the famous research paperwhich appeared last year in the scientific journal Nature and said that computers were able to design certain parts of a computer chip faster and better than human beings.
Dr Chatterjee, 43, was fired in March shortly after Google told his team it would not publish an article refuting some of the claims made in Nature, said four people familiar with the situation who were not allowed to speak openly on the issue. Google confirmed in a written statement that Dr. Chatterjee was “terminated for cause.”
Google declined to give details of Dr Chatterjee’s firing, but offered an unqualified defense of the research he criticized and his reluctance to publish his assessment.
“We carefully reviewed the original Nature article and respect the peer-reviewed results,” Zoubin Ghahramani, vice president of Google Research, said in a written statement. “We also rigorously investigated the technical claims of a subsequent submission, and it did not meet our standards for publication.”
Dr Chatterjee’s firing was the latest example of discord in and around Google Brain, an AI research group seen as key to the company’s future. After spending billions of dollars hiring top researchers and creating new kinds of IT automation, Google has faced a wide variety of complaints about how it builds, uses, and describes these technologies.
The tension among Google’s AI researchers reflects much larger struggles in the tech industry, which faces myriad questions about new AI technologies and the thorny social issues that have entangled those technologies and the people who use them. build them.
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The recent dispute also follows a familiar pattern of layoffs and duels over allegations of wrongdoing among Google’s artificial intelligence researchers, a growing concern for a company that has bet its future on integrating artificial intelligence into everything she does. Sundar Pichai, chief executive of Google’s parent company Alphabet, likened AI to the arrival of electricity or fire, calling it one of mankind’s most important undertakings.
Google Brain started as a side project over a decade ago when a group of researchers built a system that learned to recognize cats in YouTube videos. Google executives were so enamored with the prospect that machines could learn skills on their own that they quickly expanded the lab, laying a foundation to remake the company with this new artificial intelligence. The research group has become the symbol of the company’s greatest ambitions.
Prior to being fired, Dr. Gebru was seeking permission to publish a research paper on how AI-based language systems, including technology developed by Google, can end up using the biased and hateful language that they learn from texts in books and on websites. Dr Gebru said she had become exasperated by Google’s response to such complaints, including its refusal to publish the article.
A few months later, the company fired the team’s other leader, Margaret Mitchell, who publicly denounced Google’s handling of the situation with Dr. Gebru. The company said Dr. Mitchell violated its code of conduct.
The article in Nature, published last June, promoted a technology called reinforcement learning, which the article says could improve computer chip design. The technology has been hailed as a breakthrough for artificial intelligence and a vast improvement on existing approaches to chip design. Google said it used the technique to develop its own chips for artificial intelligence computing.
Google had been working on applying the machine learning technique to chip design for years, and it released a similar paper one year earlier. At that time, Google asked Dr. Chatterjee, who has a doctorate in computer science from the University of California at Berkeley and who had worked as a researcher at Intel, to see if the approach could be sold or licensed. to a chip design company. , said people familiar with the matter.
But Dr Chatterjee expressed reservations in an internal email about some of the newspaper’s claims and questioned whether the technology had been rigorously tested, three of the people said.
As the debate over this research continued, Google submitted another paper to Nature. For the submission, Google made some adjustments to the previous article and removed the names of two authors, who had worked closely with Dr Chatterjee and also expressed concerns about the main claims of the article, said the people.
When the new article was published, some Google researchers were surprised. They believed he hadn’t gone through a release approval process that Jeff Dean, the company’s senior vice president who oversees most of its AI efforts, said was necessary following the layoff of the company. Dr Gebru, the people said.
Google and one of the article’s two lead authors, Anna Goldie, who wrote it with fellow computer scientist Azalia Mirhoseini, said changes from the previous article did not require the approval process. complete. Google allowed Dr. Chatterjee and a handful of internal and external researchers to work on an article that challenged some of his claims.
The team submitted the rebuttal document to a so-called resolution committee for publication approval. Months later, the paper was rejected.
Researchers who worked on the rebuttal document said they wanted to escalate the issue to Mr. Pichai and Alphabet’s board. They argued that Google’s decision not to publish the rebuttal violated its own Principles of AI, including maintaining high standards of scientific excellence. Shortly after, Dr Chatterjee was informed that he was no longer an employee, the people said.
Ms Goldie said Dr Chatterjee asked to manage their project in 2019 and they declined. When he later criticized her, she said, he could not substantiate his complaints and ignored the evidence they presented in response.
“Sat Chatterjee has been waging a disinformation campaign against me and Azalia for over two years now,” Ms Goldie said in a written statement.
She said the work had been peer-reviewed by Nature, one of the most prestigious scientific publications. And she added that Google had used their methods to build new chips and these chips were currently being used in Google’s computer data centers.
Laurie M. Burgess, Dr Chatterjee’s attorney, said it was disappointing that “some authors of the Nature article attempt to shut down scientific discussion by defaming and attacking Dr Chatterjee for simply researching the scientific transparency”. Ms Burgess also questioned the leadership of Dr Dean, who was one of 20 co-authors on the Nature paper.
“Jeff Dean’s actions to suppress the publication of all relevant experimental data, not just data that supports his favored hypothesis, should be deeply troubling both to the scientific community and to the broader community that consumes the services and Google products,” Burgess said.
Dr. Dean did not respond to a request for comment.
After the rebuttal document was shared with academics and other experts outside of Google, the controversy spread throughout the global chip design research community.
Chipmaker Nvidia says it has used chip design methods similar to Google’s, but some experts are unsure what Google’s research means for the wider tech industry.
“If it works really well, that would be a very good thing,” said Jens Lienig, a professor at Dresden University of Technology in Germany, referring to the AI technology described in the Google article. “But it’s not clear if it works.”