Former Google scientist Timnit Gebru has launched an AI research centre

3 Dec 2021

Dr Timnit Gebru speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt 2018. Image: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Dr Timnit Gebru has launched DAIR one year after her departure from Google to continue her work in the area of ethical AI.

Former Google scientist Dr Timnit Gebru has started her own research centre focused on the responsible use of artificial intelligence.

The new Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research institute (DAIR) is described as an “independent, community-rooted institute set to counter Big Tech’s pervasive influence on the research, development and deployment of AI”.

Gebru is the former co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team. Much of her work is focused on the idea that the harms embedded in AI technology are preventable when production and deployment include diverse perspectives and deliberate processes.

DAIR is being launched one year after Gebru said she was fired from Google for criticising the company’s diversity efforts in a research paper.

‘AI needs to be brought back down to earth’

She has now said there is a need for independent spaces where researchers can conduct AI research rooted in their communities and lived experiences, and hopes DAIR can be an environment that is independent from structures that incentivise profit over ethics and individual wellbeing.

“AI needs to be brought back down to earth. It has been elevated to a superhuman level that leads us to believe it is both inevitable and beyond our control,” Gebru said.

“When AI research, development and deployment is rooted in people and communities from the start, we can get in front of these harms and create a future that values equity and humanity,”

DAIR has received $3.7m in funding from the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Kapor Center and the Open Society Foundation.

“The work of independent researchers is pivotal to ensure technology meets its potential to challenge inequality, foster inclusivity and generate opportunity,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation.

“Timnit Gebru’s launch and leadership of DAIR will advance the field of public interest technology and ensure the movement toward ethical AI not only considers but prioritises the voices of impacted communities around the globe.”

DAIR is currently a sponsored project of Code for Science and Society, a non-profit organisation that advocates for open infrastructure and looks to support community projects that focus on collaboration rather than competition.

The discussion of the ethical use of AI has been gathering momentum in the EU and in Ireland, with the Government launching a new artificial intelligence strategy in July with a focus on ethics, education and enterprise. A collaboration between four EU countries, including Ireland, is also developing an ethics-focused AI master’s degree.

Dr Timnit Gebru speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt 2018. Image: Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic