Microsoft is laying off the team that was responsible for teaching employees to program AI tools responsibly

Microsoft’s decision to lay off its entire ethics and society team within its artificial intelligence organization has left the company without a dedicated team to ensure that its AI principles are closely tied to product design, according to reports. The move comes at a time when Microsoft is leading the charge to make AI tools available to the mainstream. Microsoft still maintains an active Office of Responsible AI, which is tasked with creating rules and principles to govern the company’s AI initiatives, and the company says its overall investment in responsibility work is increasing despite the recent layoffs. However, employees have said that the ethics and society team played a critical role in ensuring that the company’s responsible AI principles were actually reflected in the design of the products that shipped.

In recent years, the team has been instrumental in designing a role-playing game called Judgment Call that helped designers envision potential harms that could result from AI and discuss them during product development. The game was part of a larger “responsible innovation toolkit” that the team posted publicly. More recently, the team has been working to identify risks posed by Microsoft’s adoption of OpenAI’s technology throughout its suite of products.

The ethics and society team was at its largest in 2020, when it had roughly 30 employees, including engineers, designers, and philosophers. However, in October of that year, the team was cut to roughly seven people as part of a reorganization. The recent layoffs have resulted in the complete dissolution of the team, which has left some questioning the commitment of the company to responsible AI. Employees and experts have noted that having a dedicated team to ensure ethical considerations are reflected in product design is critical, especially as AI technologies become more pervasive in everyday life.

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