Microsoft had disbanded a key team responsible for “ethical” artificial intelligence

Microsoft had disbanded a key team responsible for “ethical” artificial intelligence

April 06, 2023

In the recent wave of layoffs that affected 10,000 employees across Microsoft, the role of the Ethics and Society team was eliminated. The role of the Ethics and Society team at Microsoft is to ensure that the company's responsible AI principles are reflected in the design of the products it ships. The move is seen as a mistake by Microsoft employees because it leaves them without a dedicated team to ensure that the company's AI principles are closely linked to product design, especially now that (Microsoft) is leading the charge to integrate AI tools into its products and services.

The ethics and society team were roughly made up of 30 employees in 2020 but was reduced to 7 by October. The team had played a vital role in Microsoft, such as:

1. looking closely to identify the risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s technology throughout its suite of products
2. designing a role-playing game called Judgement call to help designers identify potential harms resulting from AI and discuss them during product development
3. spelling out possible risks that could result in legal filings against Microsoft’s products if discovered in the legal industry.

The original 7 remaining employees worked on predicting what would happen if Microsoft released OpenAI-powered tools to the global public before being disbanded. They predicted that Bing Image Creator could threaten artists' work and livelihoods, as anyone could copy their style using the AI-powered image creator. Microsoft agreed to modify Bing Image Creator before it was launched. The team complained that Microsoft was more focused on delivering AI tools faster than its competitors, as opposed to supporting product development.

In a meeting with corporate vice president of AI John Montgomery after the disbanding, the Ethics and Society team outlined the dangers ahead and asked the vice president to reconsider the move, but Mr Montgomery replied in his own words: "The pressure from CTO Kevin Scott and CEO Satya Nadella is very high to get this latest OpenAi model and the ones that come after it into the hands of customers at a very high rate".

The team's mission has been delegated to the Office of Responsible AI, which is tasked with creating rules and principles to govern the company's AI initiatives. The remaining members of the Ethics and Society team have been moved elsewhere within Microsoft, as Mr Montgomery promised.