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Xbox Series S review: next-gen gaming on a budget – and in style – Eurogamer.net

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Some might say that Xbox Series S is the anti-Digital Foundry console. Out of the gate, its mission statement is specifically not to deliver the state of the art in its visual presentation. Instead, the pitch is something very different – to enable next-generation gaming without having to shell out $500/£450 to indulge your hobby. Combined with Xbox All-Access, or as a standalone purchase with the value-rific Xbox Game Pass, it’s a machine designed to enable access to the games of today and tomorrow without having to wait a couple of years for the latest and greatest console hardware to drop in price – something that Microsoft says may not happen anyway.

Series S delivers exactly what it sets out to achieve, but it’s not an anti-DF machine, far from it. It’s beautifully designed, irresistible in the flesh, and in a world of economic uncertainty and an increased drive towards sustainability, it’s the most affordable and efficient next-generation machine. It certainly has its drawbacks, but it achieves what it sets out to and it does it with genuine style.

That starts with the packaging, which is attractive on the outside and does a nice job of presenting your new machine to you on the inside – a neatly wrapped console-sized parcel in the centre, accessories at the top: the same HDMI 2.1 spec display cable as Series X and a white version of the newly refined controller, plus a couple of AA batteries. Set-up is simple, made even easier by the Xbox smartphone app that interfaces with the console and takes you through all of the required inputs as the system software updates on the machine itself – a process that still seems too long and involved, and the single biggest lag factor Microsoft has not removed in the transition from one generation to the next.

Once the system has updated, it’s clear to see that Series S has the same zip as its bigger brother – which is not surprising bearing in mind that both feature Zen 2 CPU clusters and NVMe solid-state storage, rated at 2.4GB/s of sequential read bandwidth. The quality of life improvements offered by Xbox Series S over its predecessors can’t be understated: as I write this review, I’m attempting to copy over Gears 5 from an external SSD to the internal drive of an Xbox One X to finish off the power consumption table below – and the general slowdown and lag is truly poor. What rankles the most is pressing a button to select an option then waiting seconds for any kind of response. The Series consoles are such a huge improvement here, and that extends to all areas of the user interface. The 1080p dash is also effectively identical in terms of look and feel to Series X , and that extends to display outputs: this may be a machine better suited to 1080p and 1440p gaming, but you still get 4K 120Hz HDR output options, and the same 4K encoding media block as Series X.

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Microsoft’s compelling pitch video for Xbox Series S.

Xbox Series vs PS5 specs comparison

All of which leads us – inevitably – to the specs comparison and the question of economics. Series S features the same Zen 2 CPU core as Series X, running with a 200MHz deficit, which Microsoft told us is mostly about product differentiation, but does feel like a cut that need not have been made. The GPU is also of the same class as Series X, simply smaller. The premium product’s 52 AMD RDNA 2 compute units shrink down to just 20, with clocks reduced too, giving us 4TF of GPU compute up against the 12.2TF of the bigger machine. Memory allocation drops from 16GB down to 10GB, with eight gigs available to titles (vs 13.5GB on Series X). Memory bandwidth is also squeezed significantly, with 560GB/s on X cut back to 224GB/s on the S.

It’s worth stressing that while these cutbacks seem – and are – severe, all of the key features of Series X are present. The GPU is smaller, but it is still using the full RDNA 2 specification, it does feature variable rate shading, hardware accelerated ray tracing, mesh shaders and texture streaming optimisations via shader feedback sampling. It’s all there in terms of UI functionality too: Quick Resume is supported for swift access to the exact point you left off in your last played games (though this was not working correctly in the review period – something Microsoft is racing to fix). Superficially, you won’t notice any cutbacks to the Series X experience – bar the resolution cut when you start your games. But where the cuts are visible, the value proposition starts to lose some of its sheen.

It starts with the SSD – advertised as 512GB, but giving you just 364GB of useable space. In a world where the 1TB expansion storage card (useable space: 902GB) costs almost as much as the console, this presents a problem in an age where more and more games are breaking the 100GB barrier. It’s undoubtedly an issue, but it is worth remembering that 40-50GB is more the average. Older Xbox games can run from just about any USB storage device you care to attach but the point is that whether it’s for next-gen gaming, or for archiving titles, you’re going to hit the limits of Series S’s SSD sooner rather than later and you’ll be paying more for extra storage. The second major issue is the all-digital nature of the product, which severely limits where you can buy your games and how much you pay for them. Of course, this is offset to a certain extent by Xbox Game Pass, with its mind-bending value proposition. It’s been described as the best deal in gaming and that’s difficult to argue with.

The new Xbox Series console line-up.
Xbox Series X Xbox Series S PlayStation 5
CPU Eight-core AMD Zen 2 – 3.8GHz/3.6GHz (SMT on) Eight-core AMD Zen 2 – 3.6GHz/3.4GHz (SMT on) Eight-core AMD Zen 2 – variable clock up to 3.5GHz (SMT on)
GPU AMD RDNA 2 – 52 CUs at 1.825GHz (12.2TF) AMD RDNA 2 – 20 CUs at 1.565GHz (4TF) ‘Custom’ AMD RDNA 2 – 36 CUs at up to 2.23GHz (up to 10.3TF)
Memory 16GB GDDR6 – up to 560GB/s bandwidth 10GB GDDR6 – 224GB/s bandwidth 16GB GDDR6 – 448GB/s bandwidth
Storage 1TB SSD – 2.4GB/s uncompressed bandwidth 512GB SSD – 2.4GB/s uncompressed bandwidth 825GB SSD – 5.5GB/s uncompressed bandwidth
Useable Storage Space 802GB 364GB 667GB
Optical Drive 4K UHD Blu-ray No 4K UHD Blu-ray (not on Digital Edition)
Price $499/£449 $299/£249 $499/£449 (Standard) $399/£359 (Digital)

Xbox Series S: power consumption and thermal analysis

The Xbox Series S is the least powerful system in the next generation line-up, so it makes sense that it draws the least power. The cut-down Series system on chip (SoC) has 55 per cent of the silicon area of the Series X, but it’s more efficient than that under load – presumably owing to the reduced frequencies on the CPU and GPU. In the table below, you’ll see the power consumption of both SKUs in the current-gen and next-generation line-up and outside of gaming, power consumption is very similar comparing One S to Series S and likewise with the X models.

I chose Gears 5 for the gaming test as I’ve found this title to be far more demanding on power than anything else in the Series line-up, and these peak power draw metrics account for the highest system load from the first chapter of the game. Here we see that Series S requires 13 per cent more power than One S (which is limited to 30fps) for an almost 3x increase to GPU performance and 4x on the CPU. It really does seem like the junior Series console is hitting the sweet spot in terms of overall performance per watt. Meanwhile, Series X requires 23 per cent more juice over its predecessor. One thing to bear in mind here is that Gears 5 truly is demanding. My other Series S titles drew 10W less from the mains.

The thermal photography throws up some fascinating results. Likely owing to its much smaller form factor, Xbox Series S is actually the hottest next-generation console. This is perhaps not surprising when considering that it is on par or more demanding on power than Xbox One S, which enjoys a much larger form factor. With that said, the construction of Xbox Series S is simple but effective: a large fan sits on top of the main processor, expelling air directly out of the large, circular black vent. In my tests, this hit a maximum of 67 Celsius – higher than both PS5 and Series X maximum temperature points. However, the machine is just as whisper quiet as Series X.

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Power Consumption Xbox Series S Xbox Series X Xbox One X Xbox One S
Power Off 0-1.5W 0-2W 0.5W 1.5W
Instant On Standby 16W 29W 39W 11W
Dashboard 25W 42W 48.5W 22.5W
Gears 5 (Peak) 82.5W 210W 173W 73W (30fps)
  • Microsoft tells us to expect optimisations to instant-on power consumption on Series X soon.

Series S gaming: does the 1440p marketing hold up?

This is the crucial factor. In principle, I see nothing wrong with the notion of bringing two consoles to market separated by their GPU power (although the clock differential on the CPU is harder to justify – why give developers anything more to worry about?) and Microsoft’s pre-release marketing suggested that what Xbox Series X delivers at native 4K resolution, Series S will be able to match at 1440p. The messaging suggests only good things: if you’re on a 1080p screen, 1440p rendering gives you a nice level of super-sampling anti-aliasing, improving image quality. Meanwhile, four years of PS4 Pro gaming has taught us that even if 1440p isn’t exactly ideal, it still looks a fair bit better than 1080p when delivered to a 4K display.

The problem with this marketing is straightforward enough: games incur different rendering demands on different hardware configurations, something I verified back in March when I put together an AMD RDNA 4TF PC and stacked it up against higher-specced equivalents closer to PS5 specification. So, on the one hand, we have Gears 5 which sees the Coalition broadly achieve Microsoft’s spec claims – though even this is difficult to verify owing to the use of dynamic resolution scaling on both X and S consoles. Elsewhere though, the claim holds less water. Forza Horizon 4 hits native 4K on Series X, but only 1080p on Series S – and it’s the same story with Sea of Thieves. In effect then, Microsoft’s own studios don’t fully back up the platform holder’s marketing.

My problem is not with the machine, however, but with the messaging – because if there is indeed feature parity between Series X and S at 4K and 1080p respectively, that’s fine. That’s certainly what’s happening with Forza Horizon 4, and there are actually some rather lovely surprises elsewhere. Ori and the Will of the Wisps – one of the most beautiful games in the Xbox library – runs at 4K60 or alternatively at 1080p120. It does so flawlessly. Meanwhile, the Touryst runs at the same 4K60 as Xbox One X. However, on the flipside, Watch Dogs: Legion may well retain hardware accelerated ray tracing and very stable 30fps performance, but the reductions in texture quality, shadow quality and much more are clearly apparent. It also highlights another issue: if 4K Series X equates to 1080p Series S in some cases, what happens when X uses dynamic resolution scaling? In the case of Watch Dogs: Legion, it seems that the DRS range is 900p-1080p up against 1440p to 2160p on Series X – and as the direct screenshot comparisons on this page demonstrate, that can be an issue when blown up on a large living room display.

We only have a limited number of titles to test so far, but for the most part, the Xbox Series S holds up as a cheap, entry-level console and if you go in expecting a lower-resolution version of the Series X experience, that’s what you’re going to get – but there is the sense that the long-term prospects of the machine will be very much related to just how scalable it really is, and how it continues to be as the generation progresses. There also appears to be some level of elasticity in which features translate between the two consoles. Watch Dogs: Legion retains hardware-accelerated ray tracing features, while they are absent in Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition, which suggests that the extent of the scalability between the two systems isn’t quite so cut and dried. On top of that, a game launching with RT features on one console and not on the other (at launch, no less) suggests that in terms of technical requirements from the platform holder, Microsoft will have signed off on that.

Ultimately, I believe the quality of Series S releases will come down to developer buy-in and general enthusiasm for the system. Towards the end of the outgoing console generation, time and again we heard from studios of the issues they had working with Xbox One S – and this was clearly reflected in the final quality of many of the games we tested. There are some comparisons here with Series S – but only to a certain extent. There is much more commonality between the two new consoles than there was between One S and One X, and the conversion work should be easier. Again, my key concern isn’t really about the pared back GPU power of the Series S – more the seemingly savage 5.5GB drop in available system memory for titles.

Of course, Xbox isn’t just about the games of tomorrow, it’s hugely invested in legacy support, and an aspect of the Series S that cannot be overlooked is its backwards compatibility support. It’s good, but it varies dramatically from Series X and indeed PlayStation 5 in one key respect – it runs and enhances Xbox One S versions of legacy games, not Xbox One X (or PS4 Pro, in the case of PS5). What this means is that most of the transformative improvements we documented in previous back-compat coverage will not transfer onto Series S as they were mostly based on 4K titles that offered the option of an unlocked frame-rate – fertile ground for unleashing extra CPU and GPU power.

With Series S, what you’re getting are more refined versions of Xbox One S titles, most of which targeted 30fps instead. Unless Microsoft or the developer intervenes, nothing more can be done. We’ve seen a demo of Fallout 4 running at 60fps using a double fps technique the compatibility team has developed – I’d love to see more here, but certainly during the review phase, Xbox Series S ran the game at 30fps. It sums up most of the improvements you’ll see overall: the same visual feature set as Xbox One S, but with 16x anisotropic filtering and a dead-on lock to the developer’s original performance target. But to be clear, what Xbox Series S cannot do is break the 900p resolution limit that so many One S games operated at.

There are some positives on the compatibility side. Xbox One X enhanced versions of Xbox 360 titles are still enhanced, with a 2×2 resolution multiplier vs the 3×3 boost seen on One X – a native 720p experience scales up to 1440p instead of 4K then, which is better than I expected. Also, Xbox One X and even One S could outperform the CPU limitations of original Xbox 360 hardware, but there were still some issues in select titles – Series S effortlessly sorts that out. Meanwhile, there are promising signs on the OG Xbox side of things too. Star Wars: Republic Commando runs locked at 60fps, for example, effortlessly outperforming Xbox One X, which could drop into the 40s. Really though – for the best way to experience legacy titles, especially from the Xbox One era, it’s the Series X that’s the better choice. Meanwhile, PlayStation 5 is similarly well equipped for boosting the experience of PS4 and PS4 Pro games.

The wrap-up: a different kind of next-generation console

In many ways a contentious product, Xbox Series S is definitely a great idea – and perhaps the right console at the right time. If you’re not a hardcore gamer and you’re looking for a ‘Game Pass machine’, this is a brilliant offering – there’s enough space out of the box for handling a smaller selection of titles, and the lack of an optical drive isn’t really an issue. Similarly, if you’ve purchased PS5 but you’re interested in Game Pass or Microsoft’s first-party wares, you can buy a Series S knowing that the subs offering is still potent, and that Microsoft’s first-party wares will be expertly handled in their transition to the lower powered console. And despite so many seemingly brutal cuts to the core specification, I had a great time playing games on it – yes, there are compromises, but I think anyone buying the machine will go in knowing that they won’t be getting the absolute state of the art.

But yes, for the more traditional core gamer, perhaps less wedded to the idea of a games subscription service, Xbox Series S is less compelling. If you want a decent array of titles instantly available for play, you’re going to need to buy additional storage – and that’s expensive enough to make the extra £110 required to buy a PlayStation 5 Digital Edition seem like quite a good deal. Not only do you effectively double the storage, but you’re getting a far more potent machine. But this does assume that you’ll be able to find a Digital Edition console for purchase, of course. We can safely assume that Sony loses money on the fully enabled PS5 and its losses will be even more considerable on the digital-only model – which strongly suggests that far fewer of them will be made.

That’s the rational assessment of the Xbox Series S proposition – but I’ll end this piece by talking about something important that I can’t quite put my finger on. I first saw the console in the flesh at the Microsoft campus back in March – and I instantly loved it. The form factor is simply irresistible, the design is nigh-on perfect. There’s always been a certain degree of desirability attached to miniaturised consumer electronics and Series S taps into that more than any other recent technology product I can think of. Perhaps it is indeed all about how small the machine is, or perhaps it’s how Series S is so reminiscent of how consoles used to be in terms of form factor and overall ‘bang for the buck’. I honestly don’t know.

Series S’s charms grow even more appealing when stacked up against the larger, more powerful but somewhat inconvenient consoles it launches alongside. The new entry-level Xbox is a brilliant-looking product that easily goes anywhere (even on holiday – when that’s allowed again!) and looks great doing it. Coming out of that initial reveal and discussing the product (recorded for posterity here), John Linneman and I should have been griping about the spec cuts, the added burden for developers and of course, the all-digital nature of the machine. Instead, primarily, we were enthusing about the form factor and how cool the machine looks and feels. Whichever way the next console generation goes, one thing is clear: Microsoft knows how to design and build brilliant console hardware.

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Xbox Series X Game Review Roundup: Gears 5, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, NBA 2K21 and more – MobileSyrup

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Given the compressed nature of the Xbox Series X’s review program, we unfortunately weren’t able to put together in-depth looks at every game releasing for Microsoft’s new video game console.

Like our round-up of PlayStation 5 launch titles, we’ve decided to give a selection of the Xbox Series X’s launch lineup the same mini-review treatment.

Along with taking a look at Xbox Series X’s backwards compatibility features, this story also delves into titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, The Falconeer, Halo: The Masterchief Collection and more.

It’s important to note that not all of these games are exclusive to Microsoft’s new consoles and that performance is generally comparable across the PlayStation 5 when it comes to most of the third-party titles in this list.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Stadia
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $79.99

At times, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a bloated, shockingly glitchy, far too expansive mess. On the other hand, it can also be stunning, and genuinely pushes the long-running franchise in exciting directions.

For instance, the game’s Medieval setting, which includes intricate gothic castles, rolling hills and a level of detail not present in its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, is one of the most compelling worlds Ubisoft Montreal has ever created.

Of course, as has become expected from Ubisoft’s open-world games, Valhalla is also a bit of a mess. Enemies aren’t very smart and will sometimes stop pursuing you for no apparent reason, environmental objects occasionally float (one time we saw a whale float through the ocean) and overall, it’s just not a very polished video game. Further, despite a streamlining of the series’ quest system, you’ll still find yourself grinding out the occasional side quest to push the story forward or to level up protagonist Evior.

On the more positive side of things, health no longer replenishes automatically, adding a level of stakes to battles not present in recent Assassin’s Creed titles. Also, the weapon and armour system is far more streamlined than in other recent titles in the series.

With all that said, Valhalla remains one of the best-looking video games available for the Series X and is a good indication of what to expect from the Xbox Series X in terms of graphics when it comes to future Ubisoft titles.

For more on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, check out Patrick O’Rourke’s in-depth look at the game.

The Falconeer

The Falconeer

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, PC
Developer: Tomas Sala
Publisher: Wired Productions
ESRB rating: T for Teen
Price: $38.99

Acting as an unintentional spiritual successor to Xbox airplane combat game classic Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, The Falconeer was developed by just one person: Tomas Sala.

With that in mind, the game’s impressive aerial combat is compelling, though, unfortunately, gets repetitive after a few chapters. Between moments of intense combat, a relatively simple story unfolds that involves several different factions and uncovering secrets that have been lost to the sea.

It’s also worth noting that while The Falconeer isn’t very long, it’s one of the few titles that support 4K 120Hz on the Xbox Series X. All things considered, it’s cool to see an indie title like this launching on the Xbox Series X alongside big-budget titles like Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. As long as you set your expectations appropriately, there’s a lot to like about The Falconeer.

Gears 5 leads the enhanced pack

Gears 5

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: The Coalition
Publisher: Xbox
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $39.99 (on sale for $9.99) Game Pass

Despite Gears 5 already being one of the best-looking Xbox One titles, Vancouver-based The Coalition has managed to improve the game’s visuals in several ways on the Xbox Series X. While the game still utilizes dynamic resolution scaling, it hits a far more consistent 2160p. On the multiplayer side of things, Gears 5 now features a shockingly smooth 120Hz frame rate and, as a result, a slightly lower resolution than the game’s campaign mode.

Gears 5‘s detail level has also been bumped up significantly across the board, with the Series X version of the game adopting higher quality PC-like volumetric lighting, improved shadows and more. Of course, the game also loads much quicker thanks to the Series X’s NVME SSD.

In what feels like an effort to fill the void left by Halo Infinite‘s delay, Microsoft offers several “enhanced” backward compatible Xbox One titles. For example, Ori and the Will of the Wisps runs at a smooth 120Hz, and Forza Horizon 4 — a game that already looked incredible on the Xbox One — now runs at native 4K and 60fps on the Series X. Sea of Thieves, Rare’s boat-filled pirate adventure, runs at a consistent 4K/60fps on Microsoft’s new console as well.

It’s also worth pointing out that all of the titles mentioned above are part of Microsoft’s excellent $16.99 per month Game Pass Ultimate subscription service, giving you access to a wide range of games for a relatively low monthly fee.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Halo The Masterchief Collection

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC
Developer: 343 Industries
Publisher: Xbox
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $49.99 or available through Game Pass

Outside of Gears 5Halo: The Master Chief Collection is perhaps the biggest older game to get Series X/S optimizations. Impressively, 343 Industries has introduced a slew of enhancements across the collection’s several games — both on the campaign and multiplayer side. This means that Series X and S players can enjoy 120fps single-player and multiplayer modes on top of improved splitscreen play and adjustable FOV. Series X owners, specifically, can benefit from 4K resolution.

We haven’t played the Master Chief Collection since the vanilla Xbox One days, so being able to play the classic Halo games at 4K/120fps on Series X was a real treat. While we didn’t personally notice much of a difference between 60fps and 120fps, it’s still a welcome change that does impact gameplay to a degree. What’s more impressive is the crisper visuals, making Halo‘s iconic maps look absolutely stunning as we shot, punched and Spartan Laser’d my way through them. Meanwhile, the consoles’ faster load times mean you can jump into levels more quickly. Amusingly, 343 actually had to rein in the load times so they didn’t affect matchmaking.

Overall, the optimizations certainly don’t fill the void left by Halo Infinite‘s delay, but they’re nonetheless nice to have in the meantime.

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate

Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, Stadia, Windows
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB rating: M for Mature
Price: $79.99

Positioned as the definitive version of Mortal Kombat 11, the game’s new Ultimate edition includes Kombat Pack 1, the aftermath Expansion and the Kombat Pack 2, giving players access to 37 playable characters, two full story campaigns and a wide array of modes. For reasons that remain unclear, Rambo is also in the game now and voiced by Sylvester Stallone himself (yes, you read that correctly).

If you’ve played a Mortal Kombat title before, you’ll know what to expect here. The game is rife with sometimes disgusting over-the-top blood-filled violence, features the same wacky franchise mainstay characters and a plotline that really doesn’t make sense. With all that said, there’s still something charming about Mortal Kombat 11‘s simplified special system and generally stripped-back combat. Nearly anyone can still pick up the game and have a great time button mashing away. There’s also a wealth of tutorials available if you want to understand the game’s mechanics on a deeper level.

Apart from improved load times, Mortal Kombat Ultimate also runs at a 4K dynamic resolution on the Series X.

NBA 2K21

NBA 2K21

Platform: Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Switch, PC, Google Stadia, Windows
Developer: Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
ESRB rating: E for Everyone
Price: $79.99

NBA 2K21 is an extremely graphically impressive video game. This is because it’s one of the few third-party titles built from the ground up to take advantage of the ample power the Xbox Series X offers.

Everything from players’ faces and animation, to even the sweat dripping down their faces looks stunning in dynamic 4K 60fps with HDR. If you’ve seen videos of NBA 2K21 in action on YouTube, they truly don’t do the game justice given the limitations of video quality on the platform. That said, there are moments where the visuals fall apart, like, for example, when a player stares off into the distance for no reason — say hello to the uncanny valley.

On the negative side of things, NBA 2K21 is full of obtrusive microtransactions and pay-to-win mechanics across nearly all of its modes. It’s also really not that much of an upgrade over last year’s game in terms of features and gameplay, with most of the upgrades being purely visual. The only notable change to gameplay is a surprisingly compelling new shooting mechanic that requires the player to aim their shots and have precise timing.

Still, as far as sports titles that actually take advantage of what the Xbox Series X has to offer, NBA 2K21 is in a league of its own.

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Google Employees Say Scientist's Ouster Was 'Unprecedented Research Censorship' – NPR

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Former Google AI Research Scientist Timnit Gebru speaks here in September 2018. Gebru says she was abruptly fired from the tech giant after a dispute involving a research paper.

Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Kimberly White/Getty Images for TechCrunch

Hundreds of Google employees have published an open letter following the firing of a colleague who is an accomplished scientist known for her research into the ethics of artificial intelligence and her work showing racial bias in facial recognition technology.

That scientist, Timnit Gebru, helped lead Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence team until Tuesday.

She says she was forced out of the company following a dispute over a research paper and an email she subsequently sent to peers expressing frustration over how the tech giant treats employees of color and women.

“Instead of being embraced by Google as an exceptionally talented and prolific contributor, Dr. Gebru has faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing,” the open letter said. By Thursday evening, more than 200 Google employees and a similar number of outsiders — many of them academics — had signed it.

The research paper in question was co-authored by Gebru along with four others at Google and two other researchers. It focused on the environment impact and ethical implications of housing the data for and promoting an AI tool that can create lengthy text documents as if written by a human.

According to Gebru, she was planning to present the paper at a research conference next year, but then her bosses at Google stepped in and demanded she retract the paper, or remove all the Google employees as authors.

Gebru threatened to resign. She then took to an internal email list to vent about what she saw as empty promises to increase the number of underrepresented groups at Google.

Describing her own treatment as “silencing marginalized voices,” she also claimed she was given an insufficient explanation for why Google opposed her research paper. It made her feel like her expertise was not valued at the company.

“Instead of being like, ‘OK let’s talk,’ they’re like, ‘You know what? Nope, bye,'” Gebru told NPR.”I don’t feel like they thought it through. They could have had a much better outcome through dialogue.”

In the open letter, Gebru’s former colleagues described her as a “pathbreaking scientist” who sought to ensure the artificial intelligence systems were held accountable. They wrote that Gebru was one of the few Black women research scientists at Google.

Google’s dismissing Gebru, according to the letter, amounted to “unprecedented research censorship.”

Google had no immediate response to the letter.

But in an email sent internally and obtained by NPR, Google’s head of AI research, Jeff Dean, said Gebru’s paper “didn’t meet our bar for publication,” citing unspecified research she allegedly left out that undercut her premise.

Dean said since Gebru threatened to step down over Google’s lack of support for her paper, she was not fired, but rather resigned — something Gebru and her supporters dispute.

Emails from Dean and Gebru were first reported by Platformer’s Casey Newton.

Gebru’s row with Google unleashed a flurry of support from researchers and others on Twitter, organizing around the hashtag #ISupportTimnit.

Researcher Joy Buolamwini, who co-authored a seminal 2018 study with Gebru showing facial recognition technology is far more likely to misidentify people of color, particularly women, than white men, said Gebru’s termination could hurt Google’s reputation in holding its own technology accountable.

“Ousting Timnit for having the audacity to demand intellectual integrity severely undermines Google’s credibility for supporting rigorous research on AI ethics and algorithmic auditing,” Buolamwini said. “She deserves more than Google knew how to give, and now she is an all-star free agent who will continue to transform the tech industry.”

In July, Buolamwini and Gebru’s research played a prominent role in Amazon, IBM and Microsoft pulling back on providing the technology to law enforcement agencies during the national protests over the death of George Floyd.

Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest executive who left the company after voicing concern over the treatment of Black employees, said in an interview with NPR that she believed Google would not have let go a white male employee for similar behavior.

“She was fired because of who she is and not because of what she did,” said Ozoma, who also used to work at Google.

Gebru’s ouster, which she first tweeted about on Wednesday night, came the same day the National Labor Relations Board said Google had illegally fired two employees who were involving in labor organizing last year. The federal agency also found that Google had illegally spied on employees who viewed a union organizing presentation.

Ozoma, who is a friend of Gebru, says Google has shown a pattern regarding employees who agitate for change inside the company.

“Google is doing this over and over again and seems to not care at all and seems to believe they can get away with it,” she said.

In their open letter, the Google employees ask that senior leadership meet with the artificial intelligence team Gebru helped lead to explain how and why the paper Gebru co-authored was “unilaterally rejected” by management at the company.

Letting Gebru go could make Google’s workplace less welcome to Black researchers and other employees of color, the letter signatories wrote.

“The termination is an act of retaliation against Dr. Gebru, and it heralds danger for people working for ethical and just AI — especially Black people and People of Color — across Google.”

Editor’s note: Google is among NPR’s financial supporters.

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Google Ousts Top AI Ethicist – Futurism

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Censorship Allegations

One of Google’s top AI ethicists says she’s out at the company — in part, she says, because the tech giant was censoring her research.

OneZero reports that Timnit Gebru, who had been the technical co-lead of Google’s Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team, says her employment was abruptly cut off — along with her access to her company email address — after a tense email exchange.

Gebru is known for influential research into racial bias in AI algorithms. Most recently, she’s been working at Google in a research position, exploring ethical implications of AI technologies.

Story So Far

But it now sounds like her experience at the search giant has been fraught. In an email obtained by Casey Newton’s new publication Platformer, Gebru told an internal listserv about a saga in which she had circulated a new research paper coauthored with a number of other Google employees — its precise topic remains unclear, though it appears to have to do with language models — to a large group of research peers.

Then, she wrote in the email, she was surprised when her “manager’s manager” told her that she needed to retract the paper.

According to a second email, also obtained by Platformer and sent by head of Google research Jeff Dean, Gebru then said that she would resign unless a list of conditions were met. In his email, Dean also pushed back against elements of Gebru’s narrative. For instance, he said that she only gave internal Google reviewers one day to read the paper, instead of the customary two weeks.

Gebru’s manager, she said on Twitter, subsequently told her that the company couldn’t meet her conditions — and would have to let her go immediately. Google instantly cut off access to her company email account, Gebru told OneZero.

Several of Gebru’s recent tweets suggest that she’s seeking legal recourse. In one message last Monday — before her termination — she inquired about legal protections for whistleblowers among AI researchers. And on Wednesday, she tweeted that she was looking for legal representation.

READ MORE: Noted A.I. Ethicist Timnit Gebru Let Go From Google Following Tense Email Exchange [OneZero]

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