To accelerate the adoption of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies across industries, companies such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon Web Services are offering  Artificial Intelligence (AI) Services that organizations worldwide can purchase and quickly and easily deploy. 

According to an MIT Sloan Management Review article, democratization and accessibility to data science and Artificial Intelligence capabilities are essential for today and tomorrow’s organizations. 

In the race to democratize AI, companies worldwide are building tools and platforms that enable non-statisticians and non-technical personnel to analyze complex datasets and automatically glean data-driven insights.

To put machine learning technologies within reach of organizations of all sizes, companies such as Microsoft developed Azure Cognitive Services

Azure Cognitive Services enables speech, language, vision, and decision AI capabilities by putting complex AI-powered tools in the hands of Operations Staff, Engineers, Analysts, Software Developers and Data Scientists across small, medium, and large enterprises. 

The most notable of Microsoft’s Azure Cognitive Services is Face API, an AI Service that analyzes faces in images and leverages image detection and computer vision capabilities to predict emotions, age, race and gender with a high degree of accuracy. 

While Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies have taken flight and new AI technologies continue to increase across society at an exponential rate, concerns around the ethics and misuse of AI-powered technologies remain. 

Last year, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations Office of the Human Rights (OHCHR) Commissioner, urged urgent action over artificial intelligence risks to human rights. Bachelet went on to say, “Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights”.

Most recently, Microsoft has recognized the ethical concerns around some of its Azure Cognitive Services Offerings. The company has decided to retire its controversial Face API (Azure Face) as part of its Responsible AI framework. As part of Microsoft’s Responsible AI approach, the company is empowering impactful and responsible use of AI technologies by putting principles such as fairness, inclusiveness, reliability and safety, transparency, privacy and security and accountability at the heart of AI technologies.  

Microsoft has recognized that facial recognition technologies cannot accurately detect emotions as emotions differ across cultures. Natasha Crampton, Microsoft Chief Responsible AI Officer, explained in a blog post, “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.”

In pursuit of ethical AI, Microsoft will stop offering Azure Face and the Face API capability to new customers effective June 21st,  2022, and existing customers have been provided with a deadline of June 30, 2023, to revoke or migrate over to another solution as Microsoft will discontinue this service. 

Besides Microsoft, other AI companies such as Google are also pursuing ethical and principled research and development in Artificial Intelligence. Earlier in the year, Google Cloud blocked face detection technology that predicted and identified 13 emotions with a new weighing system for expressions such as joy, sorrow, anger etc. 

As companies readily adopt Artificial Intelligence as part of their digital transformation initiatives, the importance of AI Ethics continues to become an organizational issue front and center for most C-Suite executives and leaders.

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