A year after being fired from Google, Ethiopia’s Timnit Gebru now has her own AI research institute

Abu Mubarik December 08, 2021
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 07: Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks onstage during Day 3 of TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2018 at Moscone Center on September 7, 2018 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch)

A prominent artificial intelligence computer scientist who was fired by Google has announced the launch of an independent artificial research institute to focus on topics she felt were being sidelined at Google. Timnit Gebru, born and raised in Ethiopia, was reportedly fired for a research paper “critiquing Google’s lucrative AI work on large language models, which can help answer conversational search queries,” The Washington Post reported.

“I’ve been frustrated for a long time about the incentive structures that we have in place and how none of them seems to be appropriate for the kind of work I want to do,” she told The Washington Post.

Gebru has set up the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute (DAIR) and has received $3.7 million in funding from the MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation, Kapor Center, Open Society Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation.

“The Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research Institute is an independent, community-rooted institute set to counter Big Tech’s pervasive influence on the research, development and deployment of AI,” according to its announcement press release.

“AI needs to be brought back down to earth. It has been elevated to a superhuman level that leads us to believe it is both inevitable and beyond our control,” said Gebru in the announcement. “When AI research, development and deployment is rooted in people and communities from the start, we can get in front of these harms and create a future that values equity and humanity.”

According to Gebru, DAIR will join existing independent ecosystems such as Data & Society, Algorithmic Justice League, and Data for Black Lives and will seek to influence AI policies and practices inside Big Tech companies like Google from the outside.

Already, Gebru has brought some powerful and influential people to DAIR’s advisory committee. One of them is Safiya Noble, a recent recipient of the MacArthur Genius grant and author of Algorithms of Oppression.

Also on the board is Ciira wa Maina, co-founder of Data Science Africa, who has researched food security, climate change, and conservation, according to the Post.

DAIR has been built from the start to include and emphasize diverse perspectives and question the processes used at companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook/Meta, according to Techcrunch. Its focus will be on publishing academic papers.

Although Gebru was born and raised in Ethiopia, her family’s ethnic origins are in Eritrea. The computer scientist came to the United States at 16 as a refugee receiving political asylum.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: December 8, 2021


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