Google Ethics Head Fired For Questioning AI Impact of Climate Change

During December of last year, Google AI Ethics Unit co-leader Timnit Gebru was fired resulting from a research piece she did reportedly highlighting bias in artificial intelligence. Two months after the incident, Google has let go of their other AI Ethics Chair, Margaret Mitchell, for trying to acquire evidence while investigating Gebru’s termination.

However, what is interesting isn’t just the firings of both AI Chairs, but a section in Gebru’s manuscript that states:

“3 ENVIRONMENTAL AND FINANCIAL COST

Strubell et al. recently benchmarked model training and develop- ment costs in terms of dollars and estimated 𝐶𝑂2 emissions [129]. While the average human is responsible for an estimated 5t 𝐶𝑂2𝑒 per year,2 the authors trained a Transformer (big) model [136] with neural architecture search and estimated that the training procedure emitted 284t of 𝐶𝑂2. Training a single BERT base model (without hyperparameter tuning) on GPUs was estimated to require as much energy as a trans-American flight.

While some of this energy comes from renewable sources, or cloud compute companies’ use of carbon credit-offset sources, the authors note that the majority of cloud compute providers’ energy is not sourced from renewable sources and many energy sources in the world are not carbon neutral. In addition, renewable energy sources are still costly to the environment,3 and data centers with increasing computation requirements take away from other potential uses of green energy,4 underscoring the need for energy efficient model architectures and training paradigms.”

Timnit Gebru has also had issues with artificial intelligence before. Three years ago, she helped spearhead an effort to prevent Amazon.com from introducing its facial recognition technology to law enforcement, correctly pointing out that the system was more accurate in identifying white men rather than black women.

Timnit Gebru could have been fired because she dared to openly question human-induced climate change that Google stands to make a lot of money off of along with gain even more notoriety. Worst of all (as far as Google was concerned) her associate, Margaret Mitchell, would have found this out had she not been stopped.

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