Microsoft has fired an entire team dedicated to guiding artificial intelligence on the ethical side, for responsible and sustainable results. The dismissal of the ethics and society group, as mentioned by Platformer, is part of a recent wave of layoffs that affected 10.000 employees across the company.
The team's layoff comes as Microsoft invests billions of dollars in its partnership with OpenAI, the startup behind artificial intelligence systems that create art and text with AI apps ChatGPT and DALL-E 2. The company is revamping its Bing search engine and Edge browser to use AI models that are “more powerful than ChatGPT and tailored specifically for search”.
The move calls into question Microsoft's commitment to ensuring that its product design and AI [ethical] principles are closely intertwined at a time when the company is making controversial AI tools available in its mainstream applications.
Microsoft still maintains the Office of Responsible AI (ORA), which sets rules for responsible AI through the governance of a public policy project. However, employees told Platformer that the ethics and society team was responsible for ensuring that Microsoft's AI principles were indeed reflected in the design of products to be released. The team was trying to identify the risks of Microsoft's integration of OpenAI technology across its product line.
The ethics and society group was not very large (about seven people remained after a reorganization in October). Sources who spoke to Platformer said pressure from chief technology officer Kevin Scott and CEO Satya Nadella is mounting to get the latest OpenAI models into the hands of the consumer public as soon as possible.
Members of the team told Platformer that they believe they were fired because Microsoft has become more focused on releasing AI products ahead of the competition and less concerned about long-term, socially responsible thinking.
Groups like Microsoft's ethics and society department often take the reins at large tech organizations by pointing out potential social consequences or legal ramifications. Microsoft may not want to hear "No" anymore as it wants to catch up with Google.