Last Week in AI #94

AlphaFold, Timnit Gebru, and more!

Mini Briefs

AlphaFold: a solution to a 50-year-old grand challenge in biology

The problem of predicting protein structures from amino acid sequences is an important one in biology. Accurate prediction of protein structure would have benefits such as enabling quicker and more advanced drug discovery. Google's AlphaFold was recently recognized as a solution to this problem by the organisers of the biennial Critical Assessment of protein Structure Prediction (CASP). DeepMind's latest version of AlphaFold significantly outperformed other methods at a protein-folding contest. DeepMind's own announcement was accompanied by a great deal of praise and reporting, but not everyone believes that DeepMind has truly "solved" the problem, as a great deal of reporting seems to indicate. While DeepMind's AlphaFold is an impressive step forward, we will likely see much more analysis and discussion of its true capabilities in the coming weeks.

Google Researcher Says She Was Fired Over Paper Highlighting Bias in A.I.

On December 2, the well-known AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru tweeted that she had been fired from her position at Google as a co-lead of their Ethical AI research group. Gebru is known for, among other research, her work on the Gender Shades project that showed a number of industrial facial recognition systems worked worse for some races and genders than for others. According to Gebru, there was conflict over a paper that was critical of environmental costs and biases in large language models that include those used by Google. Gebru argued that her work was being censored, while Google claims Gebru did not allow enough time for internal review, having already submitted her paper to an external conference before sending it for internal review. An email Gebru sent to a Google Brain listserv also appears to have been involved in Google's decision to let her go. Google's Jeff Dean has responded publicly to the news of Gebru's firing and explained Google's internal review process. Given Gebru's standing in the AI ethics community, Google's decision to fire her has drawn ire, while the story has been covered by The New York TimesThe Washington PostMIT Technology Review, and a number of other news organizations.


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Advances & Business

Concerns & Hype

  • How Mark Kelly used conversational AI to help win a Senate seat - ", an enterprise-level conversational AI platform, has helped 2020 senatorial campaigns drive engagement with local constituents. Senators-elect Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and John Hickenlooper (D-CO), ... have publicly partnered with the company."

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