This feels pretty ominous.
Microsoft got rid of its entire company division devoted to AI "ethics and society" during its January layoffs, according to a report from Platformer.
Though the company still has an office of responsible AI, it was the job of the ethics and society staff to address how AI technology is likely to impact human society in context and communicate with product teams accordingly.
"People would look at the principles coming out of the office of responsible AI and say, 'I don't know how this applies,'" one former ethicist told Platformer. "Our job was to show them and to create rules in areas where there were none."
But now, as Microsoft races to jam OpenAI software into seemingly every product that it can, the ethics and society department is gone — a telling sign that Microsoft is more focused on profitability and getting AI-driven products to market than ensuring that those products remain a positive force for society as a whole.
According to Platformer, the team was short-staffed for months before it was ultimately dissolved.
Most of their 30-person staff was reassigned way back in October, leaving just seven employees to manage the department.
The cuts were the reportedly result of pressure being applied from upper management including CTO Kevin Scott and CEO Satya Nadella, who were trying 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," according to a VP quoted by Platformer.
Per the report, the remaining employees were also told in the meeting that their department was just "evolving" and wouldn't be "going away."
Months later, though, they were all dismissed, along with the division — right as the company announced its mammoth $10 billion investment in OpenAI.
Not Dead Yet
For its part, Microsoft has maintained that building responsible AI tools is still a priority.
"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," Microsoft told Platformer in a statement. "Over the past six years, we have increased the number of people across our product teams and within the Office of Responsible AI who, along with all of us at Microsoft, are accountable for ensuring we put our AI principles into practice."
"We appreciate the trailblazing work the Ethics & Society did to help us on our ongoing responsible AI journey," the company added.
READ MORE: Microsoft just laid off one of its responsible AI teams [Platformer]
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