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Google reorganizes AI team after months of turmoil

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Google headquarters in Mountain View, California.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Google said Thursday that it is reorganizing a team focused on artificial intelligence development. This is the turmoil that follows months of turmoil after the company’s prominent AI researchers have left.

The new team, called the Responsible AI Research and Engineering Center of Expertise, will be headed by Marian Croak, vice president of engineering for tech giants. Bloomberg previously reported the news.

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The reorganization happens when Google faces a counterattack over the exit of Timnit Gebru, one of the few black women in the field, co-leading Google’s Ethical AI group. In December, Gebru said he was fired for a research treatise pointing out the risk of AI bias, including the system used by Google’s search engine. Gebru also sent an email to a group of Google employees, criticizing the company’s diversity and equity program.

Gebru’s resignation has caused widespread anger among Google’s civilian workers and around the wider tech industry. Nearly 2,700 Google employees have signed an open letter in support of Gebru, and a former member of Gebru’s Google team has sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai requesting her return.

“Currently, there are quite a few conflicts in this area, which can sometimes be polarized,” Cloak said in a video and blog post that released the news. “And what I want to do is probably let people talk in a more diplomatic way than we have now so that we can really move the field forward.”

The news surprised some members of Google’s AI team. Alex Hannah, a member of Google’s ethical AI team, wrote on Twitter: “This wasn’t communicated to us at all, even though it was promised to happen.”

A Google spokeswoman refused to comment beyond the announcement of the company’s blog post.

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