When Microsoft’s AI takes over, watch out

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When Microsoft announced it was firing news human editors and replacing them with ‘Artificial Intelligence’, it was only a matter of time before the AI system would get it wrong.  No-one expected it to happen so soon, even before all the humans had left the building.  There’s a lesson in that for all Microsoft Office customers.

The ‘Artificial Intelligence’ system automatically chooses the news stories to appear on MSN news feeds.  The system mixed up photos of two mixed race performers in the same group, Little Mix.  Not good at any time but especially bad when there’s global demonstrations against racial discrimination.

When Microsoft’s AI takes over watch out - When Microsoft’s AI takes over, watch out

Source: Instagram post by Jade Thirlwall

Microsoft has given no apology, to the ladies concerned nor the public. No assurance that steps will be taken to improve their system just this from Microsoft:

“As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.”

Beyond the mix-up itself is Microsoft’s own defensive and censorious​ response.  It’s The Guardian that’s the problem for reporting the story – not Microsoft.

Microsoft isn’t a publisher; they have no tradition of integrity or journalistic ethics.  They have no problem with censoring news that doesn’t suit their corporate needs.  Compare that with Jeff Bezos, who allows articles critical of Amazon to appear in The Washington Post.

The Robot Rules

Microsoft has so much reliance in their technology that even the human editors might not be able to override the automatic choices.

” Because they are unable to stop the new robot editor selecting stories from external news sites such as the Guardian, the remaining human staff have been told to stay alert and delete a version of this article if the robot decides it is of interest and automatically publishes it on MSN.com. They have also been warned that even if they delete it, the robot editor may overrule them and attempt to publish it again. “

That might surprise a lot of people, but it doesn’t surprise us.  Microsoft has an unwavering trust in their ‘AI’ systems.  It’s a triumph of hype over experience.

Damage to Microsoft’s reputation

One staff member said Microsoft was deeply concerned about reputational damage to its AI product.

Which is typical Microsoft self-interest.  The insult to the two ladies or the black community in general is secondary.  Microsoft’s focus is the risk of damage to its brand or sales of their overhyped AI technology.

The human touch is always needed

We’ve said it before, Microsoft supposed ‘AI’ (really mere ‘machine learning’ not true AI) needs the human touch.  Make your own judgements about grammar, don’t assume that Word’s Grammar check or Editor are right.  By all means use PowerPoint Designer but don’t just go for one of the top suggestions and feel free to edit the revamped slide to make it work for you.

If Microsoft can’t trust their AI systems fully, neither should their customers.

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