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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Microsoft cuts AI ethics team but pledges responsible AI investment

Microsoft is dissolving its AI ethics and social responsibility team as part of its job-cutting program that aims to reduce 10,000 employees across all divisions by the end of March. Nonetheless, the company affirms that it will persist in investing in responsible AI, according to an exclusive report by Casey Newton in The Platformer newsletter.

Microsoft says it will continue to invest in responsible AI

Despite layoffs, Microsoft vows to uphold its commitment to responsible AI by maintaining its Office of Responsible AI and investing in ethical and social issues on relevant product teams. The company reports that it has increased the number of individuals responsible for these issues over the past six years, and that all Microsoft employees are expected to uphold the company’s AI principles.

However, a former member of the AI ethics team claims that their job was to establish guidelines in areas where there were none, and that the Office for Responsible AI is insufficient for this purpose. The ethics team, which numbered 30 in 2020, was downsized to seven people in October 2022 as part of a reorganization, and members were reassigned to other positions within the company.

During a meeting following the reorganization, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of AI allegedly reported that CEO Satya Nadella and CTO Kevin Scott were applying “very, very high pressure” to roll out OpenAI’s AI models to consumers quickly.

During a Zoom call on March 6th, John Montgomery, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of AI, informed the remaining seven members of the ethics team that they would not be reconsidering the decision to downsize the team.

A team member had previously requested that Montgomery reconsider the decision so that Microsoft could better fulfill its social responsibility, but Montgomery cited pressure from the executive suite and stated that the goal of the reorganization was to shift responsibilities to the product teams, not to disband the ethics team.

Despite this, the remaining members of the team had little internal support to push through their plans.

ChatGPT in Bing search highlights Microsoft’s approach to responsible AI

Microsoft has been leveraging the buzz surrounding ChatGPT to gain a foothold in the search business and put pressure on Google’s market share. By integrating a ChatGPT variant into Bing search within weeks, Microsoft hoped to gain advantages in other areas like the cloud business.

However, the company faced criticism over the bot’s performance, including false information and quotes, confusing answers, and strange conversations that generated emotional outbursts. Microsoft had to make improvements and limit the number of conversations to curb these issues.

Despite these efforts, the system continues to produce incorrect information. Additionally, the ChatGPT API integration offered by OpenAI has also come under scrutiny. For example, the Snapchat ChatGPT bot recommended that an underage girl go on a tour with a 31-year-old man, and one company received complaints from angry customers because ChatGPT recommended a product it did not carry.

Microsoft was aware of these problems before launching the chatbot search, but decided to launch it regardless.

The deployment of large AI language models presents a tension between the need for iterative practice, scaling, and human feedback to solve problems and the potential for a ruthless market share race that may prioritize profit over individual or societal harm.

Microsoft’s current actions, including the integration of ChatGPT into Bing search, and the recent leak of Meta’s large language model LLaMA, have raised questions about the safe and responsible deployment of commercial AI systems by technology companies.

Companies must balance the potential benefits of these models with the risks they pose, including the potential for bias, discrimination, and misinformation.

It is crucial for companies to prioritize ethical considerations and responsible deployment practices to ensure that these models are used for the betterment of society, rather than for the sole purpose of generating profits.

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