Satya Nadella led tech company Microsoft was part of the recent series of layoffs happening all round tech companies on the globe. This is part of the 10000 layoffs that took place in January. As reported by Platformer, it included entire ethics and society team of Artificial Intelligence.
This has led to a vacuum in the company that is venturing heavily in the Artificial Intelligence space. Although Microsoft has a dedicated page on their Microsoft AI website named a Responsible AI. The page says, “We are operationalizing responsible AI across Microsoft through a central effort led by the Aether Committee, the Office of Responsible AI (ORA) and Responsible AI Strategy in Engineering (RAISE). Together, Aether, ORA, and RAISE work closely with our teams to uphold Microsoft’s responsible AI principles in their day-to-day work.”
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As seen in case of Meta that has recently launched LLaMA (Large Language Model Meta AI) there have also emerged a sense that some contenders in the market are trying to develop AI models that is said to assist researchers to advance the work in other verticals of AI. It didn’t really show its intent in competing with other AI models like ChatGPT or Bard that have the ability to communicate.
Similarly an ethics and society team would have played an important role in ensuring that all the Responsible AI principles mentioned by Microsoft are inculcated in its efforts to make the partnership with OpenAI work better. But this move by Microsoft has brought into question its commitment to ensure these AI principles in the absence of this team.
According to the Platformer the ethics and society team had nearly 30 employees in 2020 after which the numbers fell down to only seven in October as part of a reorganization. The publication also mentioned about a audio retrieved by it of John Montgomery, corporate vice president of AI who said, “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,”
Further the publication reported that a meeting was arranged on March 6 with the remaining employees of ethics and society team of AI. This was regarding a “business critical update” from John Montgomery. In meeting Montgomery said that their team was being eliminated after all.
Also, it can’t be said that the ethics and society team wasn’t providing the world of AI with potential harms of Artificial Intelligence. This is quite clear from a blog written by Mira Lane, Partner Director, Ethics & Society titled Responsible Innovation: The Next Wave of Design Thinking. The blog puts light on how we can create a more ethical future.
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The only issue why teams like ethics and society are laid off seems to be the speed lag of projects that come with them. As their sole responsibility is to see the impact that they will have on society and their future repercussions on artificial Intelligence world. Microsoft has great plans for escalating its AI projects in partnership with OpenAI for which it has made great investments in OpenAI as reported by New York Times in January this year. Therefore it expects its projects in AI to be released at a much faster pace than its competitors. This could not have been possible if it is to do deep research work on ethics and their related impact.