DeepMind accused of mishandling sexual misconduct allegations

Enlarge / A Deepmind Health webpage sits displayed on the screen of an Apple Inc. iPhone in this arranged photograph in London, UK on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. Three years ago, artificial intelligence company DeepMind Technologies Ltd. embarked on a landmark effort to transform health care in the UK Now plans by owner Alphabet Inc. to wrap the partnership into its Google search engine business are tripping alarm bells about privacy. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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A former DeepMind employee has accused the artificial intelligence group’s leadership of mishandling multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment, raising concerns over how grievances are dealt with at the Google-acquired company.

The female member of staff, whom we call Julia to protect her identity, claimed in December 2019 that a senior researcher at the London-based group had sexually assaulted her twice, threatened suicide, and alluded to previous instances of rape, among other concerning behavior .

DeepMind, one of the world’s most respected AI companies, employs more than 1,000 people, including renowned research scientists. It said Julia’s “allegations were investigated thoroughly, and the individual who was investigated for misconduct was dismissed without any severance payments.”

However, in a letter to her former colleagues seen by the Financial Times, Julia has argued that there are major flaws in how grievances such as hers are handled at DeepMind. Alleged failures include extended delays in workplace investigations and insufficient safeguarding of sexual assault victims.

DeepMind, led by chief executive Demis Hassabis, has made a series of breakthroughs in AI since being acquired by Google for roughly £400 million in 2014. The company pursues top-tier researchers, competing with the likes of Amazon and Apple in a global battle for the best AI scientists.

Julia and two other former DeepMind employees claim the company prioritizes the protection of its reputation and top talent over the safety of potential victims. DeepMind said it takes all allegations of workplace misconduct seriously and “expects everyone—regardless of their role or seniority—to behave in a way that lives up to our values.”

Following Julia’s complaints, DeepMind said it had made several changes to its workplace policies, particularly around the investigation process and training for its managers.

Speaking to the FT, Julia outlined a series of traumatic encounters with a senior researcher over several months in 2019, including being repeatedly propositioned and sexually assaulted at her home and outdoors after an event.

She was also emailed a six-page confessional document by the researcher, written in the third person, on August 18, 2019. The document detailed suicidal tendencies, allusions to raping unconscious women, and sex addiction indicated by reference to a string of affairs with sex workers during work hours and with colleagues on and off DeepMind premises. Another document sent to her on September 19, 2019, included graphic and degrading sexual depictions of her.

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