Microsoft has laid off its entire ethics and society team within the artificial intelligence organization, according to a recent report by Platformer. The team, which played a crucial role in ensuring responsible AI principles were integrated into product design, was disbanded as part of a larger layoff affecting 10,000 employees across the company.
Despite the layoffs, Microsoft claims to remain committed to developing AI products and experiences safely and responsibly. The company maintains an active Office of Responsible AI, tasked with creating rules and principles to govern its AI initiatives. Microsoft says its overall investment in responsibility work is increasing despite the recent layoffs.
The ethics and society team at Microsoft had been involved in a variety of projects, such as creating a role-playing game called Judgment Call, designed to help designers envision potential harms caused by AI and discuss them during product development. The team also worked on identifying risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s technology throughout its suite of products.
In October last year, the ethics and society team was cut to around seven people as part of a reorganization. Five months later, on March 6, the remaining employees were told in a Zoom call that their team was being eliminated entirely.
The move to disband the ethics and society team has sparked concerns about the impact on user experience and the holistic design of AI products. It also highlights the tension tech giants face when building divisions dedicated to making their products more socially responsible. While these teams can help anticipate potential misuses of technology and fix problems before products are released, they may also face resistance from organizations focused on shipping AI tools more quickly than their rivals.
Microsoft’s decision to lay off its AI ethics team comes at a time when the company is racing to integrate OpenAI’s technology into its products, a move that could have significant repercussions for the tech giant’s performance in search, productivity software, and cloud computing. However, the elimination of teams focused on responsible work raises concerns about how Microsoft and other tech giants will address the potent risks posed by AI development.