Google is still firing AI researchers because of criticism of their work. New York Times has learned that Google fired machine learning researcher Satrajit Chatterjee in March, shortly after it refused to publish a paper Chatterjee and others wrote challenging previous results about computers being able to design some chip components more efficiently than humans. The scientist was reportedly allowed to collaborate on a paper that disputed these allegations after he and other authors expressed reservations, but was fired after a dissolution committee rejected the paper, and the researchers hoped to bring the issue to CEO Sundar Pichai and Alphabet’s board.
The company did not say why it fired Chatterjee, but said so Times he had been “dismissed with cause.” It also maintained that the original paper had been “carefully examined” and peer-reviewed, and that the investigation that challenged the allegations “did not meet our standards.”
Whether the science holds up or not, exit underscores the ongoing clash between Google’s management and the AI teams that run many of its projects. The problems began in earnest when Google fired ethicist Timnit Gebru in 2020 after a dispute over a paper, while two others followed suit. The case escalated when the internet giant fired Margaret Mitchell in early 2021. While Google claimed Mitchell violated data privacy policies, she also publicly criticized leaders and the decision to fire Gebru. These layoffs caused veteran engineers to leave the company and demand reforms, and that does not include the entire company’s protests over military contracts. Google investigated Gebru’s firing and promised changes, but the Chatterjee firing may not have eased tensions.
It’s no secret that Google is proud of its AI research. It’s eager to present algorithms that can outcompete humans in areas such as chip design and cancer detection, and its flagship Pixel 6 phones are built around a custom AI-focused processor. Any mistakes can significantly hamper Google’s business, not to mention its reputation as a leader in AI development.
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