Google Cloud AI chief Fei-Fei Li makes an exit after two years

11 Sep 2018

Sign at Google HQ in Silicon Valley. Image: Juan Llauro/Shutterstock

The chief scientist at Google Cloud, Fei-Fei Li, is leaving her post.

Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist at Google Cloud and venerated AI researcher, is returning to Stanford University where she previously worked as a professor. Li had never relinquished her position as head of AI at Stanford and she is returning to this post full-time.

Dr Andrew Moore, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, will become head of AI at Google Cloud at the end of this year.

Spearheading major innovations

CEO of Google Cloud, Diane Greene, said that Li’s team has “innovated and done a remarkable job of accelerating the adoption of AI and ML [machine learning] by developers and Google Cloud customers”. According to Greene, Li will still be liaising with Google Cloud in an advisory role.

Li was instrumental in the establishment of an AI research lab in Beijing, as part of the firm’s efforts to regain a foothold in China since it removed its search service eight years ago. She also spearheaded recent developments in Google Cloud for businesses, implementing ML systems that were easy for enterprises to use.

Project Maven unrest

Google’s use of AI made headlines earlier this year when employees protested Project Maven, a military AI project using the company’s image recognition software.

In internal emails, Li told colleagues not to mention the AI element of the Pentagon contract for fear the public or staff would be concerned about the use of the technology in a “weaponised” way, according to The Intercept. Printed excerpts from the emails included these comments attributed to Li: “This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google. You probably heard Elon Musk and his comment about AI causing WW3. I don’t know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry.

“Google Cloud has been building our theme on Democratising AI in 2017, and Diane and I have been talking about Humanistic AI for enterprise. I’d be super careful to protect these very positive images.”

Google says the decision to replace Li with Moore was planned in advance and there is no indication that the Project Maven furore was a catalyst for her departure.

Moore previously worked at Google between 2006 and 2014. He said: “I have always deeply believed in the power of technology to improve the state of the world, so for me it’s a big opportunity to help Google bring useful AI to all the other industry verticals.”

Sign at Google HQ in Silicon Valley. Image: Juan Llauro/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects