Microsoft’s recent decision to lay off its Ethics & Society team has sparked concerns about the company’s responsible AI practices. This move comes at a time when the G7 digital ministers have adopted an initiative to promote the building of “Responsible AI” due to the emergence of generative AI and the ethical issues it poses.
In March, Microsoft disbanded its ethics and social team responsible for building “Responsible AI” as part of a plan to lay off 10,000 employees. However, the company’s Chief Responsible AI Officer, Natasha Crampton, has recently explained in a blog post why the decision was made as part of an overall review of the company’s responsible AI plans.
Crampton said that Microsoft has decided to make some organizational changes to the company’s responsible AI division. First, the company plans to make a significant new investment in the team responsible for the Azure OpenAI Service, including cutting-edge technologies like GPT-4. However, this decision also resulted in downsizing the rest of the Ethics & Society team, affecting seven people.
Crampton mentioned that there are currently 350 people working on some form of responsible AI at Microsoft, of which 129 are dedicated to the subject full-time. The rest make responsible AI a significant part of their job. She added that Microsoft plans to hire new employees and move some of its current employees into responsible AI duties full-time, and these efforts will be announced “in the coming months.”
The blog post also mentions Microsoft’s Responsible AI Council, chaired by company President Brad Smith and CTO Kevin Scott, which meets regularly on these topics. It also discusses how Microsoft is working to bring responsible AI ethics into every part of the company, including continuously training and developing a large network of responsible AI “champions” with a variety of skills and roles for more regular and direct engagement.
While Microsoft’s plans seem to address concerns about the rise of AI, it remains to be seen whether the company’s actions will bring those words to life in the months and years to come. The spotlight on responsible AI practices is only set to intensify, and companies like Microsoft must take a proactive approach to ensure they are building AI that benefits society and mitigates the risks.