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Google AI scientist resigns after controversial ousting of colleagues

Samy Bengio is the highest ranking Google employee to leave the company as its AI division has been thrown into turmoil.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samy Bengio, a prominent research manager in Google's artificial intelligence division, on Tuesday said he's resigning from the company. The move comes after months of turmoil following the high-profile oustings of two AI ethics researchers on his team.

Bengio, a 14-year veteran of the search giant, worked in the Google Brain unit that focused on deep learning and artificial intelligence. Google confirmed Bengio's resignation but declined to comment further. Bengio didn't respond to a request for comment. 

"I learned so much with all of you, in terms of machine learning research of course, but also on how difficult yet important it is to organize a large team of researchers so as to promote long term ambitious research, exploration, rigor, diversity and inclusion," Bengio wrote in an email to staff, according to Bloomberg, which earlier reported the news. He didn't make any mention of the other employee departures in his letter, the report said.

Bengio is the highest-ranked Google employee to depart since the company's AI ethics unit was thrown into chaos in December. Timnit Gebru, one of the few prominent Black women in the field, announced on Twitter that she was fired over a research paper that calls out risks for bias in AI, including in systems used by Google's search engine.

Two months later, Google fired Margaret Mitchell, who co-led the company's Ethical AI team with Gebru, after an investigation into her treatment of company data. Mitchell had reportedly used automated software to go through her old messages to find examples of discriminatory treatment toward Gebru. 

In the days after Gebru's departure, he voiced his support for the researcher in a post on Facebook. "I stand by you, Timnit," he wrote. "I also stand by the rest of my team who, like me, was stunned and is trying to make sense of all this."

The episode has shaken up Google's AI team. In February, Google said it's restructuring its teams that focus on the responsible development of AI. The new team is led by Marian Croak, a vice president of engineering at the tech giant.