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Google vows to do better on DEI and firings. Timnit Gebru is not impressed.

Google AI lead Jeff Dean said Google had concluded its investigation into Timnit Gebru's dismissal in an email to employees Friday.

Google

Google has ended its investigation into the dismissal of prominent AI ethicist Timnit Gebru.

Photo: John Nacion/Getty Images

Google has concluded its investigation into the firing of prominent AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, and it announced some changes to its hiring, firing and research policies in an email from AI leader Jeff Dean to employees Friday.

While Dean did not share the results of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding Gebru's dismissal, he said that the company would enact new policies to "review employee exits that are sensitive in nature." His email, which was obtained by Protocol, said the company will also begin linking performance reviews for vice presidents and above, in part regarding diversity and inclusion goals, and it will report DEI goals and progress to the Alphabet board of directors in quarterly reviews.

The review process for publishing research papers will also change, especially for research that addresses "sensitive issues," according to the email. The process will become more streamlined because "what might be considered sensitive isn't always clear," Dean wrote. Part of the new process will include a review and outline of the kinds of research the company believes it should be conducting. Gebru's departure was mired in internal controversy over a research paper that discussed some of the ethical risks of large-language AI models; Gebru refused to take her name off the paper at Google's demand and then was dismissed shortly afterward.

"I expected nothing more obviously. I write an email asking for things, I get fired, and then after a 3 month investigation, they say they should probably do some of the things I presumably got fired asking for, without holding anyone accountable for their actions," Gebru wrote on Twitter.

Google also announced yesterday that the company's research on responsible AI will be restructured under a new team led by Marian Croak, a long-time Google engineering director. Margaret Mitchell, Gebru's former ethical AI co-lead at Google and founder of the ethical AI team, has been under investigation by Google and without access to her accounts for several weeks, and said she was not informed about the restructuring plans. "And this is how I find out. I'm so glad for all the trust they've rebuilt. It seems I've been completely erased and my team taken," she wrote on Twitter about the news.

"I understand we could have and should have handled this situation with more sensitivity. And for that, I am sorry," Dean wrote in the email.

On Friday afternoon, Mitchell wrote on Twitter: "I'm fired."

This story was updated at 5:31 pm ET to include news of Mitchell's firing.

People

Making the economy work for Black entrepreneurs

Funding for Black-owned startups needs to grow. That's just the start.

"There is no quick fix to close the racial wealth and opportunity gaps, but there are many ways companies can help," said Mastercard's Michael Froman.

Photo: DigitalVision/Getty Images

Michael Froman is the vice chairman and president of Strategic Growth for Mastercard.

When Tanya Van Court's daughter shared her 9th birthday wish list — a bike and an investment account — Tanya had a moment of inspiration. She wondered whether helping more kids get excited about saving for goals and learning simple financial principles could help them build a pathway to financial security. With a goal of reaching every kid in America, she founded Goalsetter, a savings and financial literacy app for kids. Last month, Tanya brought in backers including NBA stars Kevin Durant and Chris Paul, raising $3.9 million in seed funding.

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Michael Froman
Michael Froman serves as vice chairman and president, Strategic Growth for Mastercard. He and his team drive inclusive growth efforts and partner across public and private sectors to address major societal and economic issues. From 2013 to 2017, Mike served as the U.S. trade representative, President Barack Obama’s principal adviser and negotiator on international trade and investment issues. He is a distinguished fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney Company.
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Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

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Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

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The pay TV industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift.

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The five biggest pay TV providers lost a combined 5.5 million subscribers in 2020, narrowly staying below the 5.8 million subscribers the companies collectively lost in 2019. Subscriber losses slowed a bit toward the end of the year, but pandemic-related cutbacks still hit the industry hard — and may have led to hundreds of thousands additional cancellations if not for industry-wide billing relief efforts.

The industry is undergoing a bit of a power shift, with pay TV subscribers switching from traditional operators like Comcast and AT&T to tech companies like Google and Hulu and their respective pay TV services. However, a closer look at pay TV trends suggests that these gains may be temporary, as so-called skinny bundles fall out of favor with consumers once operators are forced to increase their price tags to make up for ever-increasing network licensing costs.

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Janko Roettgers

Janko Roettgers (@jank0) is a senior reporter at Protocol, reporting on the shifting power dynamics between tech, media, and entertainment, including the impact of new technologies. Previously, Janko was Variety's first-ever technology writer in San Francisco, where he covered big tech and emerging technologies. He has reported for Gigaom, Frankfurter Rundschau, Berliner Zeitung, and ORF, among others. He has written three books on consumer cord-cutting and online music and co-edited an anthology on internet subcultures. He lives with his family in Oakland.

Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

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There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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And remember: The big tech companies file all kinds of crazy patents for things, and though most never amount to anything, some end up defining the future.

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Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

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