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At the London-based European Analyst Day, which is run in conjunction with its Build conference in the US, Microsoft opened the event with a difficult topic: artificial intelligence (AI) and how the Seattle giant is trying to assume a level of social responsibility for how the technology is being used. Microsoft recognizes that this is a complex issue, and its approach to AI-related social responsibility is evolving as its business and the technology develops.

Social responsibility must be addressed alongside business demand

As expected from one of the world’s largest technology companies, Microsoft is working hard on developing its AI capabilities. Rather than seeing AI as replacing jobs, it views the technology as augmenting roles. Analysts at the event saw example scenarios of HoloLens usage (HoloLens is Microsoft’s untethered, holographic computer worn on the head), including in a manufacturing environment to simulate improvements to the production line, and repairing a piece of equipment in a retail environment.

Microsoft’s approach to responsibility in AI is built around four pillars: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, and inclusiveness. The pillars are underpinned by the foundations of transparency and accountability. The pillars and foundations are relevant for developers of the technology (Microsoft), implementers of the technology (partners and ecosystem), and enterprise and individuals using the technology.

The company is trying to “take the temperature of society” when it comes to AI. It commented that regionally, the UK is at the forefront of exposing issues and expressing concerns about the relationship of technology with society. Furthermore, European institutions have been keen to step in on behalf of the consumer (rather than the enterprise) to protect individual rights where technology threatens to transgress them. Microsoft sees a willingness from societies in these countries to work collaboratively with technology organizations to discuss how the issues might be addressed to the benefit of society at large.

As such a large player in the world, without doubt Microsoft has a social responsibility to oversee the acceptable use of its technology and, many would argue, to try to prevent the misuse of its technology. This not to say, however, that the organization will not expect to make money out of AI, it is a business after all, but this is a positive step for Microsoft and one that other technology providers must emulate in the battle for trust with customers and governments when it comes to AI.


Further reading

2018 Trends to Watch: Machine Intelligence, IT0014-003350 (October 2017)

"Do AI’s limitations of understanding matter?", INT002-000014 (November 2017)


Maxine Holt, Research Director, Infrastructure Solutions

[email protected]