Weekend Roundup: Google Tries to Fix Ethical A.I. Team Crisis

It’s the weekend! Before you close your browser, let’s take a minute to revisit some key tech stories from the week that you might have missed, including Google’s attempts to resolve a crisis over its diversity policy, as well as some commentary on Apple Car.

Google Restructures A.I. Teams After Diversity Controversy

Weeks after one of its most prominent researchers left under controversial circumstances, Google has announced that it will restructure its ethical artificial intelligence (A.I.) teams with an aim toward stability. Those teams will report to “Marian Croak, a Black Google executive who currently serves as a vice president of engineering focused on site-reliability matters,” according to Bloomberg, with Croak reporting to Jeff Dean, who heads up Google AI. 

In December, Timnit Gebru, who was co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, claimed that Google’s management wanted her to take her name off a paper that pointed out how a large-scale A.I. language model (LLM) can generate biased results; when she refused, management fired her. Google executives have insisted that she resigned, which she denied.

A few days later, Google CEO Sundar Pichai apologized for the circumstances of Gebru’s departure, while sidestepping whether she was actually fired or not. “I’ve heard the reaction to Dr. Gebru’s departure loud and clear: it seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place at Google,” he wrote in an internal memo. “I want to say how sorry I am for that, and I accept the responsibility of working to restore your trust.”

But Pichai’s words failed to stop a groundswell of anger among Googlers. Over on Google Walkout for Real Change’s Medium page, a petition of support for Gebru drew thousands of signatures. More Google engineers quit in response to the controversy.

Will restructuring its A.I. teams allow Google to finally settle this issue? That’s a hard question to answer, although the company may need to do much more if it wants to convince employees that it’s truly dedicated to diversity and inclusion.

VW Isn’t Scared of an Apple Car

For years, rumors have percolated that Apple is working on an electric vehicle of some sort. Reportedly code-named “Project Titan,” the effort supposedly involves thousands of employees, and will leverage Apple’s strengths in a number of areas, including software UX and battery power.

How do other automakers feel about the prospect of competing with Apple? VW CEO Herbert Diess said this week that Apple won’t swoop in and conquer the industry overnight. “The car industry is not a typical tech-sector that you could take over at a single stroke,” Deiss told Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagzeitung, as reported via Reuters.

As Daring Fireball helpfully pointed out, though, this isn’t the first time that executives in a particular industry have dismissed Apple’s chances—only to find an Apple product destroying their business model. Back in 2006-07, some Very Smart People, including Palm CEO Ed Colligan to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, breezily predicted that Apple’s newfangled smartphone wouldn’t dominate the industry. Ballmer probably still has nightmares about this interview segment:

In other words, it’s always a mistake to underestimate Apple’s chances, even in a complex segment such as automobiles.

Viking Survival Game Shows Small Developer Teams Can Win

What is it about survival games that ask you to scrounge for supplies, build fortifications, and fend off mythical beasts? Several years ago, “Minecraft” was a massive hit that unleashed a horde of imitators. Now we have “Valheim,” which has sold 2 million copies on Steam.

Why is this notable? Unlike many blockbuster games, “Valheim” was produced by an exceedingly small team. Just as with “Minecraft,” it’s a good reminder that a tiny group of intrepid technologists can make something really cool that has a huge impact, provided they have a good idea and at least some resources. Check out the game’s trailer:

Have a great weekend, everyone! Stay safe!