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Innovating with purpose: Microsoft’s approach towards developing and using AI responsibly

Personalized news feeds, email autocomplete suggestions, and online meeting transcriptions are some of the ways artificial intelligence (AI) is already helping us in our day-to-day. Now, with powerful new foundation models and accessible natural language interfaces, the new era of AI is here. Generative AI has become so accessible in recent months that it is becoming our co-pilot – from helping people draft speeches or write programming codes, to enabling customer service departments build virtual agents in minutes.

At Microsoft, we believe AI is the defining technology of our time, and this next-generation AI will augment human capabilities.

By infusing AI into our products and services, we want to help people and organizations achieve more. In the past two months alone, we have made several key announcements involving AI, which include:

Today, AI advancements continue to make significant strides in stimulating critical thinking, creativity, and speeding up data analytics and management. However, as with any powerful technology, there is a crucial need for responsibility when creating and working with AI.

At Microsoft, we prioritize and encourage responsible AI development and use. Our responsible AI principles, consist of six core principles – covering fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability – that guide us on how we build and operationalize AI systems in a responsible manner. These principles provide extremely important benchmarks for us as an organization to follow, as we continue our journey to develop better, more trustworthy AI that positively impacts lives.

However, the responsibility of ensuring AI is used for the benefit of society cannot rest on the shoulders of a few organizations alone. “We need to harness the power of AI to benefit everyone, but we also need to ensure that its use aligns with our values and respects fundamental human rights,” as Brad Smith, Microsoft’s Vice Chair & President, puts it in his blog.

Policies for the development and deployment of AI

As AI transforms industries worldwide, it is crucial that appropriate policies are established to ensure that the technology is built and used responsibly and ethically. To implement effective policy, a multi-stakeholder approach is necessary. This is not new – as demonstrated here in Malaysia, we work with leaders from the public sector, private sector, civil society, and academia to create multi-stakeholder dialogue dedicated to transformative policy recommendations for the nation. At an international level, Microsoft is a founding member of the Partnership on AI, the Rome Call on AI Ethics, and the IDB’s fAIrLAC initiative and has engaged deeply with the AI work of international organizations like OECD and UNESCO.

Closer to home, the Malaysian government recognizes this need as well. Last year in August, the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation launched the Malaysia National AI Roadmap 2021 – 2025. The roadmap encourages co-designing the appropriate environment and ecosystem to support responsible AI design, development, and use in Malaysia. Securities Commission Malaysia also published a consultation paper on a Proposed Regulatory Framework on Technology Risk Management including AI.

As dialogue on policies relating to AI intensifies, we need approaches that protect privacy and uphold rights while still allowing for positive uses of the technology to continue. To spread the benefits of AI as broadly as possible, we recommend risk-based approaches that are outcome-focused, and that are adaptable and aligned to international norms and standards, so that organizations can collaborate across borders and access state of the art technology.

Another crucial action is the sharing of best practices. This is something that we at Microsoft also benefit from greatly, as a lot of our best practices regarding AI stem from our learnings and experience working with our partners, including the AI experts at OpenAI.

Empowering Malaysia’s inclusive economic growth with AI

By democratizing our AI breakthroughs, we aim to help people create more value at work, school, and home. Our goal is to empower Malaysia’s transformation, driven by knowledge and innovation, leveraging on an inclusive digital economy to deliver more opportunities and benefits to the country and its people.

In line with this, we have committed to establishing Microsoft’s first datacenter region in Malaysia to drive cloud adoption and deliver more innovations in the country. Microsoft’s datacenter region in Malaysia is more than infrastructure – it is our investment in a more secure, productive, resilient, inclusive, and sustainable Malaysia.

Preparing for the future of work with AI

AI, as a transformative technology, will be crucial in augmenting the capabilities of a workforce. However, as it delivers key benefits such as productivity gains, it is equally important to acknowledge that AI may disrupt many sectors and reshape professions. To prepare for this, there must be opportunities for those impacted to reskill, and for education systems to be ready to prepare people for tomorrow’s opportunities. While AI may change the nature of many jobs, it will simultaneously create new jobs that did not exist before.

Bridging the skills gap is foundational to achieving inclusive and sustainable prosperity, driven by the digital economy. Alongside our datacenter region commitment, Microsoft has also pledged to upskilling an additional 1 million Malaysians by the end of 2023 through our Bersama Malaysia initiative. By providing digital upskilling opportunities to more Malaysians, we want to ensure every person has an equal opportunity to thrive and succeed in an AI-enabled future.

To do so, we are collaborating with organizations including government agencies, non-profit organizations, corporates, as well as education institutions, to name a few. With the support of all our partners, we have achieved close to 80% of our skilling targets as of February 2023.

Empowering responsible AI within our ecosystem

In tandem with the growing confidence in AI, businesses are seeking partners to help streamline adoption and rapidly apply the technology across workloads to drive operational efficiencies and reduce costs. Using AI, Microsoft aims to provide better content, productivity solutions, and employee experiences, all built with  the responsible AI principles in mind.

We understand the importance of being transparent about our AI innovations, which is why we provide Transparency Notes about the intended uses, capabilities, and limitations of our AI platform service and products, so customers have the knowledge necessary to make responsible deployment choices. To continue building trust-based partnerships with our customers, we regularly share our learnings and encourage our customers to cascade this to their ecosystems.

Additionally, we have developed an Impact Assessment template to help customers consider the range of impacts that their deployment of AI may have. This assessment takes into account a company’s stakeholders, the intended benefits of AI, and its potential harms. This further emphasizes our commitment to make AI accessible, responsible, and inclusive by being transparent in both the pros and cons of AI, thus arming businesses with insights to plan ahead in a responsible manner. This approach ensures that everyone can and will benefit from the power of AI.

Balancing innovation with responsibility and accountability

As AI advances, we can expect to see a significant shift in the way we work and learn. With its ability to complete routine tasks and provide real-time insights, we can expect to see increased productivity, advanced critical thinking, more efficient workflows, and more promising innovations.

We are committed to helping organizations unlock the potential of AI. As we build a culture of responsible and ethical AI, we aim to continue engaging in conversations with organizations of all sectors. Through this, the goal is to create a transparent environment where AI can be used to empower lives without jeopardizing the rights of the people. At Microsoft, we are equipped to provide the technology, resources, and expertise to make this a reality.

Find out more about Microsoft’s efforts towards responsible AI here.