Timnit Gebru Launches Independent AI Research Institute On Anniversary of Ouster from Google

The Distributed AI Research Institute will create space for independent, community-rooted AI research free from Big Tech’s pervasive influence.

Dec. 2, 2021 — Timnit Gebru announces the launch of the Distributed Artificial Intelligence Research institute (DAIR) — an independent, community-rooted institute set to counter Big Tech’s pervasive influence on the research, development and deployment of AI. The announcement comes on the heels of the one year anniversary of Gebru’s sudden ouster from Google, where she co-led the Ethical AI team, and is a response to the need she sees for independent spaces where researchers across the globe can set the agenda and conduct AI research rooted in their communities and lived experiences.

Gebru believes that the harms embedded in AI technology are preventable and that when its production and deployment include diverse perspectives and deliberate processes, it can be put to work for people, rather than against them. With DAIR, Gebru aims to create an environment that is independent from the structures and systems that incentivize profit over ethics and individual well-being.

“AI needs to be brought back down to earth,” said Gebru, founder of DAIR. “It has been elevated to a superhuman level that leads us to believe it is both inevitable and beyond our control. 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.”
At a time when AI tools and the technology companies that build them are coming under public and legislative scrutiny, it is critical that the work of independent researchers and research institutes, like DAIR, are supported. The institute is funded by the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Kapor Center and the Open Society Foundation, who have long supported individuals and organizations, including Gebru, working to build the field of public interest technology, an emerging field focused on harnessing the power of technology for the public good. They’re hopeful that DAIR is an opportunity to bring even more public interest technologists to the table and further build the movement toward inclusive and equitable technology.

“As we continue to witness, when technology is created and deployed irresponsibly it can exacerbate systems of bias and discrimination with shocking speed and effect," said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. "The work of independent researchers is pivotal to ensure technology meets its potential to challenge inequality, foster inclusivity, and generate opportunity. 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 prioritizes the voices of impacted communities around the globe.”

“Dr. Gebru is a pioneering AI researcher and advocate who has helped create a better understanding about the harms that AI technologies can potentially cause, including reinforcing racism and other forms of discrimination,” said John Palfrey, president of the MacArthur Foundation. “To shape a more just and equitable future where AI benefits all people, we must accelerate independent, public interest research that is free from corporate constraints, and that centers the expertise of people who have been historically excluded from the AI field. MacArthur is proud to support Dr. Gebru’s bold vision for the DAIR Institute to examine and mitigate AI harms, while expanding the possibilities for AI technologies to create a more inclusive technological future.”

“AI Scholars like Dr. Timnit Gebru have shown us that digital algorithms operating behind the scenes can be riddled with bias in design and deployment, with profound negative effects on communities of color in employment, policing, housing, health, and civic participation,” said Allison Scott, Ph.D., CEO of the Kapor Center. “We have long understood the importance of action-oriented research to drive advocacy in tech. And at this pivotal moment, we are thrilled to support and collaborate with Dr. Gebru and DAIR to increase scholarship and advocacy on addressing algorithmic bias  and ensuring that the promise and potential of technology is harnessed to create a more equitable future.”

“This is about doing the hard work necessary to guarantee that real accountability and fairness are baked into future AI projects, rather than as an after-thought,” said Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundations. “We must find a way to ensure that fundamental safeguards which address accountability and equity are at the forefront of the development of all future AI projects. We are proud to be a part of a growing global movement holding tech use to account and working to develop the collective tools and knowledge we need to verify that AI advances, rather than harms, the public interest.”