SOME of the world’s top minds in robotics and machine learning convened for a virtual, invite-only research workshop hosted by Google. Two academics invited didn’t log on as scheduled: They withdrew to protest Google’s treatment of two women who’ve said they were unjustly fired from the company’s artificial intelligence research division. A third academic who previously received funding from Google took his own stand, saying he would no longer apply for its support.
Although small in scale, the boycott illustrates some of the damage to Google’s reputation from the acrimonious departures of Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell, coleaders of a team working to make AI systems more ethical. The controversy has drawn new attention to the influence of tech companies on AI research, and has led researchers inside and outside of Google to ask whether it was distorting research into AI’s impact on society.