As Microsoft continues its string of layoffs, the company’s ethics and society team is the latest part of the workforce to be fired. The sacking of the ethical AI team at the tech giant has naturally led to controversies regarding whether or not Microsoft is dedicated to following ethical principles in its growing adoption of AI.
One might note that this round of layoffs comes at a time when Microsoft is making multi-billion-dollar investments in AI through its partnerships with OpenAI.
Not too long ago, the tech giant revamped its Edge Web Browser and Bing search engine with next-gen AI-powered language processing models.
The team wasn’t always this small. It was during the reorganization conducted in October that most of the ethics and society team workers were transferred to other teams. The remaining seven were informed on 6th March by John Montgomery, the corporate vice president of AI, that they’d be let go.
The potential reason behind the layoffs – something to worry about
According to the fired members of the ethical AI team, the tech giant laid them off due to its growing focus on getting new AI products shipped before the competition. They believe that long-term, socially responsible thinking is no longer a priority for Microsoft.
A similar notion resonates among many industry analysts regarding Microsoft’s concern for ethical principles when releasing AI products.
The Office of Responsible AI (ORA) still remains operational at Microsoft and sets rules for responsible AI through policy changes to govern AI initiatives.
However, it was the ethics and society team that made sure Microsoft’s principles for responsible AI were actually applied to the company’s products. The timing of the layoff likely isn’t a coincidence. Microsoft recently announced its plans to integrate ChatGPT into all its apps.
Ethical issues regarding the products of Big Tech companies require close monitoring due to their ability to impact our everyday lives.
According to employees, the ethical AI team was working to identify and reveal the risks that could potentially result from this move.
Microsoft is determined to take away as much market share from Google as possible. The company even said that it would gain $2 billion in annual revenues for every 1% market share it takes away from Google’s search engine.
Teams like the laid-off ethical AI team restrict tech giants from rolling out new AI products by identifying potential legal and social consequences. It’s quite possible that Microsoft fired the team to remove their opposition to the widespread integration of ChatGPT. The removal of the ethics and social team is bound to take its toll, mostly on users.