Google faces internal battle over AI research to speed up chip design

OAKLAND, Calif., May 2 (Reuters) – Alphabet Inc’s (GOOGL.O) Google announced on Monday that it had recently fired a senior director of engineering after colleagues, whose historical research into artificial intelligence software he had tried to discredit, accused him of harassing behavior.

The dispute, which stems from efforts to automate chip design, threatens to undermine Google’s search reputation in the academic community. It could also disrupt the flow of millions of dollars in government grants for AI and chip research.

Google’s search unit has come under intense scrutiny since late 2020 after workers filed open criticism over its handling of staff complaints and publishing practices. read more

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The new episode emerged after the scientific journal Nature in June published “A graph placement methodology for rapid chip designled by Google scientists Azalia Mirhoseini and Anna Goldie. They found that AI could complete a key step in the chip design process, known as ground planning, faster and better than an unspecified human expert, a subjective benchmark.

But other Google colleagues in an article that was anonymously uploaded in March –”Stronger baselines for evaluating deep reinforcement learning in chip placement– found that two alternative approaches based on basic software outperform AI. One beat it on a well-known test, and the other on a proprietary Google rubric.

Google declined to comment on the leaked project, but two workers confirmed its authenticity.

The company said it refused to release Stronger Baselines because it did not meet its standards, and soon after fired Satrajit Chatterjee, one of the main movers behind the work. He declined to say why he fired him.

“It’s unfortunate that Google has taken this turn,” said Chatterjee attorney Laurie Burgess. “His goal has always been to have transparency about science, and he urged Google to fix that for two years. »

Google researcher Goldie told The New York Times, which first reported the firing on Monday, that Chatterjee had harassed her and Mirhoseini for years by spreading false information about them.

Burgess denied the allegations and added that Chatterjee did not disclose Stronger Baselines.

Patrick Madden, an associate professor specializing in chip design at Binghamton University who read both papers, said he had never seen a paper before Nature that lacked a good point of comparison.

“It’s like a benchmark problem: everyone gets the same puzzle pieces and you can compare how close you are to getting everything right,” he said. If they were to produce results on a standard benchmark and they were stellar, I would sing their praises. »

Google said the comparison with a human was more relevant and that software licensing issues prevented it from mentioning tests.

Studies conducted by large institutions such as Google in well-known journals can have an outsized influence on the funding of similar projects in the industry. A Google researcher said the leaked document unfairly opened the door to questions about the credibility of any work published by the company.

After “Stronger Baselines” appeared online, Zoubin Ghahramani, vice president of Google Research, wrote on Twitter last month that “Google maintains this work published in Nature on ML for Chip Design, which has been independently reproduced, open-source and used in production at Google”.

Nature, citing a UK public holiday, had no immediate comment. Madden said he hoped Nature would revisit the post, noting that peer reviewer ratings show at least one requested result on the markers.

“Somehow it never happened,” he said.

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Reporting by Paresh Dave. Edited by Gerry Doyle

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Google faces internal battle over AI research to speed up chip design

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