Azure Updates: Responsible AI; Security platform; Databases

June 29 2022

Microsoft publicly shared its Responsible AI Standard, its framework for building AI systems. The Standard is intended to provide “actionable guidance” rather than high level principles to Microsoft teams. Research in 2020 found that Microsoft speech-to-text technology had double the error rate for many African American users as white users, prompting the company to hire a sociolinguist and expand its data collection efforts. Custom Neural Voice is used to create synthetic voices, for instance imitating Bugs Bunny for AT&T or the Flo voice for Progressive. Microsoft setup a layered control framework restricting customer access to the service and requiring “active participation of the speaker” when creating synthetic voices to avoid deceiving people. Through the Standard, Microsoft shared its Impact Assessment template and Transparency Notes.

Significantly, Microsoft announced that it will retiring Azure Face capabilities used to infer emotional states.  Natasha Crompton, Chief Responsible AI Officer wrote:

Taking emotional states as an example, we have decided we will not provide open-ended API access to technology that can scan people’s faces and purport to infer their emotional states based on their facial expressions or movements. Experts inside and outside the company have highlighted the lack of scientific consensus on the definition of “emotions,” the challenges in how inferences generalize across use cases, regions, and demographics, and the heightened privacy concerns around this type of capability. We also decided that we need to carefully analyze all AI systems that purport to infer people’s emotional states, whether the systems use facial analysis or any other AI technology. The Fit for Purpose Goal and Requirements in the Responsible AI Standard now help us to make system-specific validity assessments upfront, and our Sensitive Uses process helps us provide nuanced guidance for high-impact use cases, grounded in science.

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