Microsoft has laid off its entire ethics and society team, which was responsible for guiding AI innovation to ensure ethical, responsible, and sustainable outcomes, according to Platformer.
The move comes as part of a larger layoff affecting 10,000 employees across the company, raising concerns about Microsoft’s commitment to responsible AI development.
Every company that uses #AI as its primary focus needs to have an AI ethics team. It's incredibly disappointing to hear that Microsoft just laid off theirs when they are so committed to creating products set around the technology.
— Eugene Capon | An actual Metaverse expert. (@CaponDesign) March 14, 2023
According to current and former employees cited by Platformer, Microsoft’s recent decision has left the company without a dedicated team to ensure its AI principles are integrated into product design.
This has raised questions about Microsoft’s commitment to responsible AI development and its prioritization of ethical considerations. The move has led to concerns about the tech giant’s ability to uphold its values and principles in AI development without a specialized team.
The mass layoff comes despite the company’s investment of billions into a partnership with OpenAI, the developer of widely popular AI-powered chatbots ChatGPT and DALL-E 2.
Microsoft has already incorporated ChatGPT into its Bing search engine. Additionally, Microsoft is planning to integrate a new, next-generation large language model into its Edge browser, that is “more powerful than ChatGPT and customized specifically for search.”
“People would look at the principles coming out of the office of responsible AI and say, ‘I don’t know how this applies,’ our job was to show them and to create rules in areas where there were none,” said a former employee.
Transferred or eliminated
The recently laid-off team was recruited to role-play a game called “Judgement Call,” which helped designers envision potential harms that could result from AI. The team had around 30 employees at its peak, almost three years earlier. But it was shrunk to roughly seven people as part of a reorganization of the company.
During a meeting with the team after the reorganization, John Montgomery, Corporate Vice President of AI, informed the employees that the company’s executives had directed them to act quickly.
GPT-4 was truly a team effort from our entire company, but the overall leadership and technical vision of Jakub Pachocki for the pretraining effort was remarkable and we wouldn’t be here without it
— Sam Altman (@sama) March 14, 2023
“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,” said Montgomery.
Much of the team was going to be moved to other areas of the organization as a result of that pressure, explained Montgomery.
During a reorganization of the company last year, most members of the ethics and society team were transferred to other teams. And the remaining seven people were informed by Montgomery that they would be eliminated.
Microsoft committed to AI product
Despite the entire ethical team being told their services were no longer needed, the commitment of Microsoft towards AI products and experiences apparently remains undimmed.
“Microsoft is committed to developing AI products and experiences safely and responsibly, and does so by investing in people, processes, and partnerships that prioritize this,” the company said in a statement.
Microsoft laid off its ethics and society team in their artificial intelligence organization
— Utsav Techie (@utsavtechie) March 14, 2023
The company stated it has increased the number of people across its product teams and “within the Office of Responsible AI, who, along with all at Microsoft, are accountable for ensuring AI principles are put into practice.
“We appreciate the trailblazing work the ethics and society team did to help us on our ongoing responsible AI journey.”