Microsoft has recently announced its commitment to the advancement of AI driven by ethical principles that put people first. The company has published its Responsible AI Standard, a report that focuses on creating AI systems that are fair, reliable, safe, private, secure, inclusive, and transparent. The company has also released tools and resources to help customers and developers implement responsible AI practices and technologies.
However, some critics have questioned the sincerity of Microsoft's responsible AI initiative after the company laid off its entire Ethics and Society team earlier this year. The team was responsible for guiding AI innovation that leads to ethical, responsible, and sustainable outcomes. The team was also involved in reviewing Microsoft's AI products and services for potential harms and risks.
The decision to eliminate the ethics and society team was part of Microsoft's strategic move to cut 10,000 jobs as part of a $1.5 billion restructuring. I wrote at the time how this move would impact the ongoing development of Microsoft's AI.
Specifically, removing the Microsoft ethics and society team will remove obstacles and allow the company to release AI products more quickly.
Ethics Employees Concerned About Microsoft's AI Direction
Some former members of the ethics and society team have expressed their disappointment and frustration over the layoff. They said they felt betrayed by Microsoft's leadership and that their work was not valued or appreciated. They also said they were concerned about the future of ethical AI at Microsoft and the potential impacts of its products and services on society.
Microsoft has defended its decision by saying that it still has other teams and committees that advise on responsible AI issues. The company also said it is collaborating with researchers and academics around the globe to advance responsible AI practices and technologies.
It is worth noting Microsoft has other AI oversight operations, such as The Aether Committee, the Office of Responsible AI, and the Responsible AI Strategy in Engineering.
However, some experts have argued that Microsoft's responsible AI principles are not enough to ensure ethical AI outcomes. Critics argue the company's principles need to be translated into concrete actions and policies that are enforced and monitored.
Microsoft Reaffirms Commitment to Safe AI
In its new playbook, Microsoft says that it is committed to delivering safe AI products and having proper oversight:
“Implementing a Responsible AI strategy is a challenge many organizations struggle with. As a result, Microsoft has standardized the Responsible AI practices and made them available for other companies or machine learning professionals to adopt in designing, building, testing or deployment of their AI systems. For instance, customers or developers can leverage the responsible AI impact assessment template to help identify the AI systems' intended use; data integrity, any adverse impact to people or organizations; and how it addresses goals of each of the six core responsible AI principles: Fairness, Inclusiveness, Safety & Reliability, Accountability and Transparency.
“In addition, this fosters a practice for AI developers to take accountability and be able to provide transparency to end-users on what the AI system does; how it should be used; its limitations/restriction and known issues. This helps machine learning teams evaluate their development lifecycle approach to validate that they are not overlooking factors that could cause their AI solution not to behave as intended.”
Microsoft has leveraged the ChatGPT/GPT-4 technology into its services, notably Bing Chat, Bing Image Creator, Microsoft 365 Copilot, and Azure OpenAI Service. Google and Bard are seen to be playing cath up to OpenAI and Microsoft.
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