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Microsoft Lays off AI Ethics Team

Microsoft Lays off AI Ethics Team

Sarah Hardacre
Microsoft has quietly laid off the entire team dedicated to ensuring responsible AI principles are included in its product designs. Meanwhile, the software giant continues to boost its AI capabilities across many of its product lines.

The cut of the Ethics and Society team is part of a larger layoff program affecting 10,000 employees across the company. Microsoft will maintain its Office of Responsible AI, the department responsible for defining and publishing the company-wide guidelines and policies on how to design, build and test AI systems.

Microsoft started working on the responsible AI framework in 2017. The team built the governance around AI, defining principles, training employees, creating processes and tooling to support responsible AI by design across the company.

The Ethics and Society team acted as the bridge between the Office of Responsible AI and the teams on the ground building the products, ensuring the guidelines and framework were put into practice.

The Ethics and Society team peaked in 2020, when it had roughly 30 employees from different backgrounds such as engineering and design. In October, 2022, the group was cut to less than 10 people during a reorganization. The department was finally shuttered at the beginning of March.

This change comes at a time when Microsoft is heavily investing in OpenAI, trying to integrate the start-up’s technology across its product lines to compete with Google and other tech giants. Microsoft has already incorporated AI-powered chatbots in many of its existing products, such as Bing and Word, PowerPoint and Outlook from the Microsoft 365 suite.

Even though the organization has changed, Microsoft states that “as AI models continue to advance, we know we will need to address new and open research questions, close measurement gaps and design new practices, patterns and tools.”

Microsoft is not alone in easing its AI safety nets, Twitter laid off its Machine Learning Ethics team in November, just days after Elon Musk acquired the company.

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