As part of the recent layoff spree that affected over 10,000 employees, Microsoft has eliminated the entire ethics and society team, as reported by Platformer.
Microsoft's ethics and society team was responsible for guiding the company's A.I. innovation towards ethical, responsible, and sustainable outcomes. Previously, the team created a role-playing game called “Judgment Call,” which allowed designers to envision potential harms arising from A.I. and discuss them during the product development stage.
The team shared this game as part of a broader toolkit for responsible innovation that they made public. Recently, the team shifted its focus towards identifying potential risks associated with Microsoft's integration of OpenAI's technology across its suite of products.
While Microsoft still maintains its Office of Responsible A.I. (ORA), which sets rules for responsible A.I. through governance and public policy work, employees say the ethics and society team was critical in ensuring Microsoft's responsible A.I. principles were actually reflected in product design.
The team, which had only about seven members, was not very large, and most of its members had been transferred to other teams last year during a reorganization. The remaining members were recently informed by John Montgomery, Corporate Vice President of A.I., that they would be eliminated after all.
Sources suggest that pressure from the chief technology officer Kevin Scott and CEO Satya Nadella was mounting to get the most recent OpenAI models and next iterations into customers' hands as quickly as possible, which may have contributed to the decision to eliminate the team.
With the elimination of this team, Microsoft risks losing sight of its commitment to responsible A.I. principles and opens the door to potential negative impacts on society.
Despite this, Microsoft continues to invest in its partnership with OpenAI, notably with its latest round of $10-billion investment on OpenAI in January. The company is also revamping its Bing search engine and Edge web browser to be powered by a new, next-generation large language model that is "more powerful than ChatGPT and customized specifically for search."
While Microsoft's focus on A.I. innovation and advancement is commendable, the elimination of its ethics and society team raises concerns about the potential societal and ethical impacts of A.I. technology. As the company moves forward with its AI endeavors, it must ensure that its responsible A.I. principles are upheld and reflected in its product design and development.