Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, November 27, 2021

Cloud Developers Ambivalent on AI Misuse 

Prompted by a recent backlash among employees at major U.S. cloud technology vendors, a new survey reveals mixed intentions among AI developers about how far they are willing to go in developing new law enforcement and other controversial tools.

Among those surveyed were developers working for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), which announced a partnership this week with a group advocating restraint in the deployment of AI technologies.

The survey released by workplace app vendor found that cloud developers concerned about misuse of technologies they build nevertheless expressed surprising willingness to develop controversial AI applications. More than half of Microsoft, Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) employees surveyed said they are willing to create AI software for law enforcement applications.

Apple, IBM, Cisco Systems and developers all said they were less willing to work on such AI projects.

Paradoxically, seven out of ten employees of the Big Three cloud vendors said they remain concerned about the misapplication of AI technology. For example, Google developers protested the company’s involvement in the Defense Department’s Project Maven.

Meanwhile, Microsoft developers protested a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) while AWS employees sought to end a partnership with Palantir, a government contractor whose software is used by ICE in deportation hearings and workplace raids.

According to the survey, 58.7 percent of Microsoft developers—the highest percentage among cloud vendors—said they had no problem working on AI projects geared toward law enforcement.

The survey of cloud developer was conducted in mid-July. said it received 3,826 unique responses to its AI survey.

Among the technologies generating the most concern among cloud developers are facial recognition technologies that law enforcement agencies are rapidly adopting. According to the survey, more than two-thirds of developers at all cloud companies are worried about the misapplication of facial recognition tools. IBM (NYSE: IBM) led the way with 86.4 percent of its cloud developers opposing law enforcement use of the machine learning technology.

Overall, 77.4 percent of all respondents said they are worried about the misuse of facial recognition technologies.

Separately, Microsoft announced Monday (July 22) it will invest $1 billion in OpenAI, the group founded by Elon Musk to promote “safe artificial general intelligence,” or AGI. Microsoft said Monday (July 22) the funding would be used to develop a platform within its Azure cloud designed to scale AGI.

The partners also said they would jointly develop new AI supercomputing technologies, with Microsoft serving as the exclusive cloud partner.


About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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