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Google reorganizes AI teams after months of turmoil

The search giant is creating a new team under Marian Croak, a vice president of engineering.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. 
Stephen Shankland/CNET

Google on Thursday said it's restructuring its teams that focus on the development of artificial intelligence, a shake-up that follows months of turmoil after the departure of a prominent AI researcher at the company. 

The new team, called the Responsible AI Research and Engineering Center of Expertise, will be led by Marian Croak, a vice president of engineering at the tech giant. Bloomberg earlier reported the news.

The reorganization comes as Google faces blowback over the exit of Timnit Gebru, who co-led Google's Ethical AI group and is one of the few Black women in the field. In December, Gebru said she was fired over a research paper that calls out risks for bias in AI -- including in systems used by Google's search engine. Gebru also emailed a group of Google employees, criticizing the company's diversity and equity programs. 

Gebru's departure has caused widespread outrage among Google's rank-and-file workforce and around the broader tech industry. Nearly 2,700 Googlers have signed an open letter in support of Gebru, and members of Gebru's former team at Google sent a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding she be reinstated.

"There's quite a lot of conflict right now within the field, and it can be polarizing at times," Croak said in a video and blog post announcing the news. "And what I'd like to do is have people have the conversation in a more diplomatic way, perhaps, than we're having it now, so we can truly advance this field."

The news came as a surprise to some members of Google's AI teams. "This was not communicated with us at all, despite promises that it would be," Alex Hanna, a member of Google's Ethical AI team, wrote on Twitter.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment beyond the company's blog post announcement.