May 24, 2023 at 4:39 pm

Microsoft’s AI Ethics Team Have All Been Let Go

by Trisha Leigh

There seems to be news from the AI world every single day. It’s often confusing and almost always super technical, so I’ve been assuming (or at least hoping) that some folks with ethics were keeping tabs on everything from the inside.

While that may be true elsewhere, it’s no longer the case at Microsoft, who has cut their ethics team loose.

The company has endured ongoing layoffs that have affected around 10,000 employees – which works out to about 5% of their global workforce.

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Photo Credit: iStock

Recently, the 30-member Ethics & Society team was reduced to just 7 employees.

The department was responsible for ensuring Microsoft’s artificial intelligence development remained in line with the company’s principles. They worked to identify risks in the product designs and plans to integrate OpenAI’s tech into their available suite of products.

This is concerning, as the “AI arms race” is heating up between Microsoft, Google, and Meta. They’re all racing to deliver chat programs, text generators, and online search aids that will blow consumers away.

Critics are already concerned the companies will release problematic software just to be able to say they did so first.

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Image Credit: iStock

Duri Long, an assistant professor in communications focusing on human/AI interaction spoke about those concerns with PopSci.

“I am concerned about the timing of this decision, given that Microsoft has partnered with OpenAi and is using ChatGPT in its search engine Bing and across other services. This technology is new, and we are still learning about its implications for society. In my opinion, dedicated ethics teams are vital to the responsible development of any technology, and especially so with AI.”

Microsoft still maintains an Office of Responsible AI – but former employees say that without the old Ethics & Society team, there is no one to create rules in areas where there currently aren’t any.

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Image Credit: iStock

Microsoft’s corporate VP of AI disagrees.

“It’s not that Ethics & Society is going away – it’s that it’s evolving. It’s evolving toward putting more of the energy within the individual product teams that are building the services and the software, which does mean that the central hub that has been doing some of the work is devolving its abilities and responsibilities.”

We will all have to wait and see, of course, how and when this impacts the public in the future.

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