As Wired reports, the company’s “Ethical AI” team has been caught by the purge. That’s especially unfortunate, given that Musk has argued Twitter’s algorithm should be more transparent — something the team was working on right up until being fired wholesale.
In short, it’s exactly the kind of short-sighted action we’ve come to expect from Musk, who has taken over Twitter’s operations like a bull in a china shop.
Rumman Chowdhury, director of the Machine Learning Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability (META) team at Twitter, was let go as part of Friday’s mass layoffs.
But not much love was lost, given the company’s controversial new CEO.
“Imagine feeling relief that you’re the one on the receiving end of the Thanos snap,” she wrote.
The team was tasked with researching any political biases that might be unfairly targeting certain groups.
“We were told, in no uncertain terms, not to rock the boat,” Chowdhury told Wired earlier this week, prior to the layoffs.
Joan Deitchman, who was the unit’s senior manager, revealed that the entire team had been let go.
“Yep, the team is gone,” Deitchman wrote today. “The team that was researching and pushing for algorithmic transparency and algorithmic choice.”
“The team that was inventing and building ethical AI tooling and methodologies,” she added. “All that is gone.”
It’s a big loss in the field.
“The META team was one of the only good case studies of a tech company running an AI ethics group that interacts with the public and academia with substantial credibility,” Ali Alkhatib, director of the Centre for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco, told Wired.
That kind of progressive mind set on ethical use of machine learning appears to be the very last thing on Musk’s mind right now. The billionaire has been busy lashing out at advertisers for abandoning him after making brash remarks and spreading baseless conspiracy theories.
It’s especially ironic considering the amount of time and thought Musk has committed to making algorithms more transparent. In March, roughly a month before announcing his bid to buy the company, Musk argued that “the algorithm needs to be open source.”
Given what has gone down this week, the billionaire is clearly gunning for a scorched Earth approach that will likely keep Twitter’s operations in a tailspin for a while longer. Without the backing of advertisers, Twitter will have an even steeper financial hill to climb.
Whether Musk’s own efforts to build a radically transparent and fair social media platform that caters to both sides of the aisle will ever amount to anything close to what this particular team was working on remains to be seen.
But given where we are right now, it’s difficult to imagine.