Microsoft’s recent layoffs have caused concern about the future of ethical AI development. The team devoted to guiding this innovation has been removed, leaving a question unanswered about Microsoft’s commitment to responsible AI development.
Microsoft’s new partnership with OpenAI and its large language model is likely to prove more threatening to its team-based competitors than any of the technology giants’ investment in chat- and text-generating artificial intelligence systems.
Microsoft’s decision to move away from its principles of product design and AI could be damaging to the company’s reputation, especially as it makes its controversial AI tools available to the mainstream. In recent months, Microsoft has come under fire for providing access to its facial recognition technology to law enforcement agencies without first sufficiently explaining how the technology works or ensuring that it is being used in a safe and ethical manner. The company’s shift away from principles of product design may make these concerns even more pronounced.
The ethics and society team at Microsoft was responsible for ensuring that Microsoft’s responsible AI principles were actually reflected in the design of products that shipped. Recently, they had been working to identify risks posed by Microsoft’s integration of OpenAI’s technology across its suite of products.
Staff turnover was high and morale was low, long before the reorganization in October. Platformer employees said that pressure from the CEO and CTO led to a rapid shift in priorities, away from research and development of new OpenAI models and towards getting next iterations out to customers as quickly as possible. This shift reportedly caused significant damage to morale within the team, creating a rift between those who wanted to continue working on groundbreaking AI research and those forced into compromising their principles in order to keep their jobs.
In light of the reorganization, which saw most of the ethics and society team transferred to other teams, many believe that they were let go because Microsoft had become more focused on getting its AI products shipped before the competition. With no dedicated ethical and social resources, it is likely that Microsoft was unable to keep up with increasing scrutiny from investors and the public regarding its AI practices.
Apple has a different strategy when it comes to search engines. It does not want to be the only game in town and so its aim is to keep its competitors at bay. This is done through the development of its own products and services, as well as through alliances with other companies.
Microsoft, as an industry leader in technology, has always been at the forefront of popularizing new and innovative products. Recently, their newest product is the Microsoft HoloLens which is said to change the way people