Apple hires Google AI veteran Samy Bengio amid ethics controversy

The scientist announced his departure after 14 years following the dismissal of two close colleagues

Apple has hired former Google artificial intelligence (AI) scientist Samy Bengio following his departure from the company after controversy engulfed the Google Brain division.

Bengio will lead a new AI research division at Apple and will report to senior vice president of machine learning and AI strategy John Giannandrea, according to Reuters

Giannandrea himself joined the company in 2018 after spending roughly eight years at Google.

Bengio, who oversaw AI ethics at Google Brain left the company on 28 April following the announcement of his resignation earlier in the month. Although he cited the desire to pursue “other exciting opportunities”, his departure followed a series of controversial dismissals, including those involving two close colleagues, Timnit Gebru and Margaret Mitchell.

Gebru claims to have been fired in December after Bengio’s manager at the time, Megan Kacholia, asked her to retract a paper co-written with Mitchell. In the research paper, they criticised the algorithms Google had deployed in its search engine.

The company is said to have dismissed Mitchell in February after she allegedly transferred files out of the company electronically, according to Reuters. She claimed, however, that her departure was related to concerns she had raised about race and gender inequity at Google, in addition to the firing of Gebru in December 2020.

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Two other Google engineers also quit citing Gebru’s dismissal, as well as other concerns about the treatment of staff. Mitchell, too, noted that a handful of other researchers working on ethical AI at Google were being poached amid the crisis.

Gebru's departure, and the events that have followed, even sparked Google investor Trillium Asset Management to call for an independent review into Googl'e internal policies.

Bengio announced his departure on 6 April. His decision to leave also follows the reorganisation of the ethical AI unit in Google in February, with Bengio’s responsibilities being cut, according to Bloomberg.

Before he joined Google, Bengio co-developed an open source framework and package of tools for developing machine learning algorithms, known as Torch. He was also involved in developing TensorFlow when he joined Google, a competing open source framework that grew more popular than Torch.

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