Employees who organized a recent 20,000-person walkout are claiming that Google is retaliating against them and so they had to resign before they get fired.
The walkout, which happened in November 2018, was led by Meredith Whitaker who used to run the Google Open Research unit. For the past couple of years, she has been a prominent voice and was among Google employees who demanded increased accountability from tech companies for using artificial intelligence, AI.
Whitaker claims that sometime in April Google retaliated against her because of her role in the November walkout. She was told by Google that her AI ethics work is no longer a fit for Google’s Cloud division.
Whitaker said that with those statements, it was very clear that Google is no longer a place where she can continue to work. In her farewell note to fellow employees, she urged them to unionize, protect whistleblowers and continue insisting on transparency around the technology that they are creating and to monitor how the technology is going to be used.
Additionally, in an internal Google note, Whitaker said that Google’s advantages in AI have pushed the company into new markets including health care, fossil fuels, and city development. As such Google has gained significantly in its pursuit to earn. This leaves the company with unchecked power significant enough to have a huge impact globally. She claimed that many Google leaders no longer understand the direction that the company is taking and the fact they are not being incentivized.
In response to the issue, Google told Wired that Meredith Whitaker decided to quit from her role in Google’s open-source program management team. She has spent most of her time working for NYU’s AI Now Institute and will continue to pursue this work as she leaves Google. Google also said that Whitaker’s official role in Google was related to open source work.
Aside from her allegations against Google, Whitaker also warned about the need for guardrails around the way tech giants are managed as well as the way technology is being developed. This, according to her, is the most urgent social and political question of our time.