Artificial intelligence is having a big moment right now in the tech industry. OpenAI’s ChatGPT recently became the fastest growing app in history. Big Tech companies like Google are making moves to bring AI into its core products.
With things moving so fast in this AI boom, safeguards and ethical rules to protect users will be especially important. As companies try out new things with AI, it’s important that they don’t let user safely fall wayside.
This is why it’s concerning to hear news like this. As originally reported by Platformer(Opens in a new tab) earlier this week, Microsoft fired its entire AI ethics and society team amid its most recent layoffs. In total, 10,000 employees were let go from the company.
It certainly is a questionable decision from Microsoft, a company that has perhaps gone more all-in on AI than any of the other big tech companies. The computer giant has already integrated AI-powered chatbots and assistants into many of its products, such as Bing, the Edge web browser, and its suite of Microsoft 365 products such as Word, Powerpoint, and Outlook.
One notable individual who questioned Microsoft’s decision is Tesla, SpaceX, and Twitter CEO Elon Musk.
Tweet may have been deleted
(opens in a new tab)
(Opens in a new tab)
“Microsoft fired their AI safety team?,” tweeted Musk alongside a link(Opens in a new tab) to Ars Technica’s report on the news.
Musk has been quite(Opens in a new tab) a vocal critic(Opens in a new tab) of the current(Opens in a new tab) state of AI, so his post is not completely surprising.
“There is no regulatory oversight of AI, which is a major problem,” tweeted(Opens in a new tab) Musk in December. “I’ve been calling for AI safety regulation for over a decade!”
“OpenAI was created as an open source (which is why I named it “Open” AI), non-profit company to serve as a counterweight to Google,” said Musk in another tweet(Opens in a new tab), referencing his time with OpenAI in its early days. “But now it has become a closed source, maximum-profit company effectively controlled by Microsoft.”
However, what is interesting is that Musk fired Twitter’s own AI safety team himself back in November, just days after he acquired the company. Wired(Opens in a new tab) originally spoke with members of Twitter’s ML Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability team shortly after Musk’s first round of layoffs at the company. Another former member of the team tweeted(Opens in a new tab) at the time that all but one was fired. It’s unclear if that one individual still works at the company after Musk carried out a series of additional layoffs.
The team was involved in important projects and research around how the company utilizes AI. For example, in 2020, many Twitter users started to notice that the platform was showing racial bias in how it cropped photos. Twitter’s algorithm was automatically centering white faces when trimming how a photo was displayed in feed. Twitter’s ethical AI team researched what had happened, published their findings for all to read, and began offering a bug bounty to users in order to better fix this specific problem.
Microsoft still has an active Office of Responsible AI, according to Platformer. However, the specific team that was laid off reportedly “played a critical role in ensuring that the company’s responsible AI principles are actually reflected in the design of the products that ship.”
Elon Musk is right to point out Microsoft’s questionable decision to let that team go. But then that begs the question: Why did Musk lay off a team tasked with that very same job at Twitter? That seems like a pretty questionable decision too.