Ethics at the chopping block


Big tech companies cut AI ethics staff, raising safety concerns | Financial Times

Big tech companies have been slashing staff from teams dedicated to evaluating ethical issues around deploying artificial intelligence, leading to concerns about the safety of the new technology as it becomes widely adopted across consumer products.

Here comes the “warning shot”

“Responsible AI teams are among the only internal bastions that Big Tech have to make sure that people and communities impacted by AI systems are in the minds of the engineers who build them,” said Josh Simons, former Facebook AI ethics researcher and author of Algorithms for the People.

“The speed with which they are being abolished leaves Big Tech’s algorithms at the mercy of advertising imperatives, undermining the wellbeing of kids, vulnerable people and our democracy.”

Well, even with the “ethical teams” in place, it did not significantly impact the well-being of the kids or vulnerable people. These are catch-phrases to solicit funding or “raise alarms”. It’s like shouting “wolf”.

Ethics is an abstractive concept. No one knows what it means, barring some very dry texts in that domain. “Ethical Researchers” are the first ones on the chopping block when corporations understand the need to manage costs in recession. Western templates of ethics are not even relevant locally since they only fuel meaningless debates. However, they find convenient excuses around exporting them to “global south”.

By highlighting the specific phrases, my intent is to cut through the clutter and understand the fluff around the real-politics. Wars are not won in drawing rooms, but by wielding swords. The corporations desire profits at the next quarterly review. Ethical considerations are sore sticking points in engineering divisions if managerial inputs require code to achieve specific outputs.

As again:

“It is problematic when responsible AI practices are deprioritised for competition or for a push to market,” said Strait from the Ada Lovelace Institute. “And unfortunately, what I am seeing now is that is exactly what’s happening.”


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