Earlier today, I reported on Microsoft's decision to remove employees from its ethics and society team, which oversees the safety and fairness of the company's AI solutions. That initial report was more about the job losses as Microsoft lays off 10,000 staff. However, the decision also has a potentially profound impact on the company's AI output.
Specifically, removing the Microsoft ethics and society team will remove obstacles and allow the company to release AI products more quickly.
Some reports point to Microsoft laying off parts of the team, but it actually seems that the whole ethics and society group has been eliminated. If you are unfamiliar with the team, it would look for potential issues in AI products.
For example, if an AI was unethical or even outright dangerous, the team would notify Microsoft's engineers. This made the group both a stumbling block and helpful to the launch of ethical and safe AI. What it wasn't is essential, or at least that is how it seems.
In audio obtained by Platformer, John Montgomery, corporate vice president of AI at Microsoft, says executives are putting pressure on employees to roll out AI faster:
“The pressure from [CTO] Kevin [Scott] and [CEO] Satya [Nadella] is very, very high to take these most recent OpenAI models and the ones that come after them and move them into customers hands at a very high speed,” Montgomery says.
We have also seen how Google CEO Sundar Pichai is pushing employees to test AI even though many disagree. It seems tech companies – led by Microsoft and Google – are in an AI arms race. So desperate are they to get their AI solutions on the market, they may be willing to forgo safety and ethical checks.
In fact, in the audio, one employee pleads with Montgomery to “reconsider the decision” but gets shut down by the executive.
“Can I reconsider? I don't think I will,” Montgomery responded. “Cause unfortunately the pressures remain the same. You don't have the view that I have, and probably you can be thankful for that. There's a lot of stuff being ground up into the sausage.”
It is worth noting Montgomery says that the ethics team will evolve instead of being removed entirely. Furthermore, it is not the only AI oversight division at Microsoft. The company also has The Aether Committee, the Office of Responsible AI, and the Responsible AI Strategy in Engineering.
Even so, employees reportedly believe the ethics and society team was the only one actively ensuring Microsoft adheres to AI principles in its products.
Tip of the day: For the most part, Windows apps are stable, but they can still be still thrown out of whack by updates or configuration issues. Many boot their PC to find their Microsoft Store isn't working or their Windows apps aren't opening. Luckily Windows 11 and Windows 10 have an automatic repair feature for apps that can resolve such issues.