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Saturday, July 8, 2023

Microsoft Scraps Entire Ethical AI Team Amid AI Boom

Lauren Leffer
Updated on March 14, 2023
Still relevant

Microsoft is currently in the process of shoehorning text-generating artificial intelligence into every single product that it can. And starting this month, the company will be continuing on its AI rampage without a team dedicated to internally ensuring those AI features meet Microsoft’s ethical standards, according to a Monday night report from Platformer.

Microsoft has scrapped its whole Ethics and Society team within the company’s AI sector, as part of ongoing layoffs set to impact 10,000 total employees, per Platformer. The company maintains its Office of Responsible AI, which creates the broad, Microsoft-wide principles to govern corporate AI decision making. But the ethics and society taskforce, which bridged the gap between policy and products, is reportedly no more.

Gizmodo reached out to Microsoft to confirm the news. In response, a company spokesperson sent the following statement:
Microsoft remains committed to developing and designing AI products and experiences safely and responsibly. As the technology has evolved and strengthened, so has our investment, which at times has meant adjusting team structures to be more effective. For example, over the past six years we have increased the number of people within our product teams who are dedicated to ensuring we adhere to our AI principles. We have also increased the scale and scope of our Office of Responsible AI, which provides cross-company support for things like reviewing sensitive use cases and advocating for policies that protect customers.

To Platformer, the company reportedly previously shared this slightly different version of the same statement:

Microsoft is committed to developing AI products and experiences safely and responsibly...Over the past six years we have increased the number of people across our product teams within the Office of Responsible AI who, along with all of us at Microsoft, are accountable for ensuring we put our AI principles into practice...We appreciate the trailblazing work the ethics and society team did to help us on our ongoing responsible AI journey.

Note that, in this older version, Microsoft does inadvertently confirm that the ethics and society team is no more. The company also previously specified staffing increases were in the Office of Responsible AI vs people generally “dedicated to ensuring we adhere to our AI principles.”

Yet, despite Microsoft’s reassurances, former employees told Platformer that the Ethics and Society team played a key role translating big ideas from the responsibility office into actionable changes at the product development level.

The info is here.