“Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” ― George Orwell, 1984
George Orwell’s quote has never been more relevant than today. Even though something may feel uncomfortable to talk about, that does not make it untrue. Change can start with a single voice creating a ripple effect. Being the only one, does not mean that what you have to say is any less important even if it feels like the whole world is against you.
A very similar situation occurred with Timnit Gebru, a renowned AI researcher at Google. She was forced to depart from the company after she turned in studies critical of the corporation’s approach to AI and complained to colleagues about the organization’s approach to diversity efforts. Her research findings underscored that Google was not acting prudently when deploying such powerful technology. She felt that the company was insensitive regarding the environmental consequences of constructing supercomputers. Notably, other researchers have also found that particular types of facial-recognition software perpetuate society’s existing inequities based on race, class, gender, and many other attributes.
Artificial intelligence has taken a significant role in diversity and inclusion efforts. In particular, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been involved in multiple controversies surrounding its top researches and executives. Sundar Pichai, the Chief Executive at Alphabet Inc., has placed a strong emphasis on artificial intelligence as central to the company’s future. He has demonstrated this focus by investing billions of dollars to entrench the technology in the behemoth’s disparate business units.
However, this may have also resulted in one of the company’s most complicated management challenges. Over the past 18 months, Alphabet has been battling numerous debates regarding AI and diversity.
There is controversy surrounding the motivation behind Ms. Gebru’s separation from the corporation. To take action, Mr. Pichai has commissioned an investigation into the circumstances around her departure and said he would seek to restore trust. Jeff Dean, Ms. Gebru’s manager, did not have faith in Ms. Gebru’s assertions and told employees that he determined her research was insufficiently rigorous. However, several of her colleagues held a different viewpoint.
After Ms. Gebru separated from the company, there have been approximately 2,700 Google employees who have signed a public letter, stating that her departure “heralds danger for people working for ethical and just AI—especially Black people and People of Color—across Google.”
As the use of AI seeps into the various aspects of our society, companies and governments must safeguard the privacy and rights of individuals. Ethical questions must now be put at the forefront of our decision making to embrace the colorful fabric of our global community. Diversity needs to be used to break down barriers, not build up walls.
For more information on AI and its impact on diversity, please visit http://blogs.shu.edu/stillmanexchange/2020/11/18/could-facial-recognition-be-perpetuating-societys-biases/
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