Google Artificial Intelligence Team Draws From Critical Race Theory, Internal Document Shows

Strident activists in Google's AI unit plunged the team into chaos. They're gone now, but their mark could remain coded in algorithms that impact American life.
In this Photo illustration Google Logos seen displayed on an Android phone. (Photo Illustration by Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Avishek Das/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) work draws from Critical Race Theory, a philosophical framework that posits that nearly every interaction should be seen as a racial power struggle and seeks to “disrupt” American society which it views as immutably racist, according to a company document obtained by The Daily Wire.

A screenshot of an internal company page, obtained by The Daily Wire, says under the header “Ethical AI”:

We focus on AI at the intersection of Machine Learning and society, developing projects that inform the general public; bringing the complexities of individual identity into the development of human-centric AI; and creating ways to measure different kinds of biases and stereotypes. Out [sic] work includes lessons from gender studies, critical race theory, computational linguistics, computer vision, engineering education, and beyond!

In 2020-2021, main focus area include:

  • Data: Histories, Lifecycles, Ethics of collection and usage.
  • Personal identity: Gender, Race, LGBTQ+, and all of the intertwined complexities relevant to ML models.
  • Diversity and Inclusion: Everything from who’s at the table to how this can be modeled in ML systems to how to evaluate for it.

Google’s Ethical AI team appears intent on encoding far-left ideology into its algorithms even after previous leaders of the team plunged the section into chaos over their insistence on overlaying progressive politics onto mathematics.

Until recently, the team was co-led by Timnit Gebru, who cofounded a “Black in AI” racial affinity group and in 2018 coauthored a paper saying facial recognition technology was less accurate at recognizing women and minorities.

She also demanded information from Google’s self-driving car company about how skin color affected its technology for detecting pedestrians, leading to “legal haggling.”

In 2020, she threatened to resign unless Google dropped its objections to a paper she had written that seemed to argue that AI technologists should settle for less-good language models because the initial training of a major model like Google’s used electricity equivalent to the carbon emissions of five cars, Technology Review reported in December.

Her paper also reportedly said that a danger of training a language model on large bodies of text was that overseers could not check everything it read to make sure that it did not read anything racist. The paper decried that a highly-read language model might read language that predated the MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements and thus miss out on its “new cultural norms,” according to a Technology Review summary of the paper, which was not public.

Late last year, after conflict with Google management over that paper, Gebru wrote an email blasting “micro and macro aggressions” and “zero accountability,” according to a copy of the email obtained by Platformer.

Soon after, Jeff Dean, the head of the broader AI team, wrote that “Timnit Gebru is no longer working at Google.”

Dean’s email, also obtained by Platformer, said her paper had “raised concerns about bias in language models, but didn’t take into account recent research to mitigate these issues.” It said Gebru had demanded to know the names of every manager who helped make the decision that the paper should not be approved, and said that she would quit if the company did not turn over the information to her. The company accepted her resignation.

In February, the team’s other co-lead, Margaret Mitchell, was fired for writing a program to search through her emails to look for evidence of discrimination about Gebru, according to Verge.

Mitchell had previously complained to Dean that she was denied a promotion because of “nebulous complaints to HR about her personality,” The Verge reported.

Dean said he did not believe there was a pattern of giving worse jobs to women than to men.

But if strident activists remain in the AI team, the logic that regardless of evidence, discrimination is present in all situations could soon be baked into code that impacts much of society.

Despite the departure of its activist co-founders, employees cut out of the same mold remained. According to CNBC, they wrote in a six-page letter to Google’s CEO that “Google’s short-sighted decision to fire and retaliate against a core member of the Ethical AI team makes it clear that we need swift and structural changes if this work is to continue, and if the legitimacy of the field as a whole is to persevere.”

Gebru “and Meg Mitchell had cultivated a diverse, productive team which thrived in a psychologically safe environment. Offering Timnit her position back at a higher level would go a long way to help reestablish trust and rebuild our team environment,” the letter said.

In February, the Ethical AI team was reorganized to report to Marian Croak, who leads a “black leadership group” at Google.

Google did not return a request for comment.

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