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Yesterday, Diane Greene, the CEO of Google Cloud, announced in a blog post that Chief Artificial Intelligence Scientist Dr. Fei-Fei Li will be   replaced by Dr. Andrew Moore, dean of the school of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University at the end of this year.

The blog further mentions that, as originally planned, Dr. Fei-Fei Li will be returning to her professorship at Stanford and in the meanwhile, she will transition to being an AI/ML Advisor for Google Cloud. The timing of the transition following the controversies surrounding Google and Pentagon Project Maven is not lost on many.

Flashback on ‘Project Maven’ protest and its outcry

On March 2017 it was revealed that Google Cloud, headed by Greene, signed a secret $9m contract with the United States Department of Defense called as ‘Project Maven’. The project aimed to develop an AI system that could help recognize people and objects captured in military drone footage. The contract was crucial to the Google Cloud Platform gaining a key US government FedRAMP authorization. This project was expected to assist Google in finding future government work worth potentially billions of dollars. Planned for use for non-offensive purposes only,  project Maven also had the potential to expand to a $250m deal.

Google provided the Department of Defense with its TensorFlow APIs to assist in object recognition, which the Pentagon believed would eventually turn its stores of video into “actionable intelligence”.

In September 2017, in a leaked email reviewed by The New York Times, Scott Frohman, Google’s head of defense and intelligence sales asked Dr. Li ,Google Cloud AI’s leader and Chief Scientist, for directions on the “burning question” of how to publicize this news to the masses. To which she replied back-

Avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI. Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI — if not THE most. This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google.”

As predicted by Dr. Li, the project was met with outrage by more than 3000 Google employees who believed that Google shouldn’t be involved in any military work and that algorithms have no place in identifying potential targets. This caused a rift in Google’s workforce, fueled heated staff meetings and internal exchanges, and prompted some employees to resign. Many employees were “deeply concerned” that the data collected by Google integrated with military surveillance data for targeted killing.

Fast forward to June 2018 where Google stated that it would not renew its contract (to expire in 2019) with the Pentagon.

Dr. Li’s timeline at Google

During her two year tenure, Dr. Li oversaw some remarkable work in accelerating the adoption of AI and ML by developers and Google Cloud customers. Considered as one of the most talented machine learning researchers in the world, Dr. Li has published more than 150 scientific articles in top-tier journals and conferences including Nature, Journal of Neuroscience, New England Journal of Medicine and many more. Dr. Li is the inventor of ImageNet and the ImageNet Challenge, a large-scale effort contributing to the latest developments in computer vision and deep learning in AI.

Dr. Li has been a keynote or invited speaker at many conferences. She has been in the forefront of receiving prestigious awards for innovation and technology while being an acclaimed feature in many magazines. In addition to her contributions in the world of tech, Dr Li also is a co-founder of Stanford’s renowned SAILORS outreach program for high school girls and the national non-profit AI4ALL.

The controversial email from Dr.Li can lead to one thinking if the transition was made as a result of the events of 2017. However, no official statement has been released by Google or Dr. Li on why she is moving on.

Head over to Google’s Blog for the official announcement of this news.

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