Microsoft Lays Off Key AI Ethics Team, Report Says
Read more of this story at Slashdot.
According to Platformer, Microsoft’s recent layoffs included its entire ethics and society team within the artificial intelligence organization. “The move leaves Microsoft without a dedicated team to ensure its AI principles are closely tied to product design at a time when the company is leading the charge to make AI tools available to the mainstream, current and former employees said.” From the report:
Microsoft still maintains an active Office of Responsible AI, which is tasked with creating rules and principles to govern the company’s AI initiatives. The company says its overall investment in responsibility work is increasing despite the recent layoffs.
But employees said the ethics and society team played a critical role in ensuring that the company’s responsible AI principles are actually reflected in the design of the products that ship. “People would look at the principles coming out of the office of responsible AI and say, ‘I don’t know how this applies,'” one former employee says. “Our job was to show them and to create rules in areas where there were none.”
In recent years, the team designed a role-playing game called Judgment Call that helped designers envision potential harms that could result from AI and discuss them during product development. It was part of a larger “responsible innovation toolkit” that the team posted publicly. More recently, the team has been working to identify risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s technology throughout its suite of products. The ethics and society team was at its largest in 2020, when it had roughly 30 employees including engineers, designers, and philosophers. In October, the team was cut to roughly seven people as part of a reorganization.
“Microsoft is committed to developing AI products and experiences safely and responsibly, and does so by investing in people, processes, and partnerships that prioritize this,” the company said in a statement. “Over the past six years we have increased the number of people across our product teams and 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.”