Employee Flags Microsoft to the FTC

Microsoft, AI, Image, Microst AI image, copilot designer

Shane Jones, an AI engineer at Microsoft, has publicly raised concerns about the AI image generators, Copilot Designer and DALL-E 3.

  • Copilot Designer and DALL-E 3 allow users to create images from text prompts.
  • Jones discovered troubling results during his testing of the AI tools, including images depicting violence, sexual content, and potential copyright violations.

Microsoft artificial intelligence (AI) engineer, Shane Jones, has gone public with his concerns regarding the AI image generators, Copilot Designer and Dall-E 3.

Copilot Designer is based on OpenAI’s AI technology, DALL-E 3. It allows users to generate images based on text prompts. Now, Jones, who has been working at Microsoft for six years, has been actively testing the AI tools in his spare time and has discovered some eyebrow-raising results. He found that they produced images that depicted violence and sexual content. Some of the results could also potentially infringe on copyrights.

According to the letters he wrote to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Microsoft’s board of directors, in early December 2023, he “discovered a security vulnerability with OpenAI’s DALL·E 3 model that allowed me to bypass some of the guardrails that are designed to prevent the generation of harmful images.” Some of the generated images depicted scenes related to sensitive topics such as abortion rights and underage drinking.

And get this. One of the generated images featured Elsa from “Frozen”—the “Let it go!” Disney princess—in scenes related to the Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces, and the Palestinian cause. They had better fix this before the World’s Greatest Babysitter comes down on them. The Mouse is not exactly known for patience. But I digress.

You may think that this is not a big deal. But please remember that there have been countless accounts of minors using generative AI tools for unethical purposes. Some were even generating explicit pictures of other children. 

Doing the right thing, Jones took his concerns to Microsoft. However, the tech giant neglected to do anything about it, according to Jones.

Jones did the next best thing, despite risking his employment and, quite frankly, his future. He escalated the matter, sending letters to the FTC and Microsoft’s board of directors. He urged them to take action and solve the safety issues surrounding both Copilot Designer and DALL-E 3. He had compiled an archive of over “200 examples concerning images created by Copilot Designer.”

In response, a Microsoft spokesperson stated that they “are committed to addressing any and all concerns employees have in accordance with our company policies and appreciate the employee’s effort in studying and testing our latest technology to further enhance its safety.”

We can discuss until we’re blue in the face about ethically training AI models. But the truth of the matter is nothing is going to stop them unless Congress gets their act together. OpenAI alone has been in court 11 times over copyright infringement allegations!

What was placating the masses was that these generative AI companies were putting some effort into safeguarding their tools. I get that the person who found the bug is an AI engineer who probably lives, eats, and breathes that stuff. However, the world is not lacking in tech-savvy people. Have you seen all the cyberattack reports?! This British teenager managed to hack Rockstar Games from a hotel room using Amazon Firestick. I’m not saying that hacking is easy, but it’s not exactly quantum mechanics either.

Why was there a backdoor? And why did it take Jones to go to the appropriate authorities for Microsoft to do something about it? Microsoft isn’t some small company that has just started to figure out how to operate. Microsoft is TWICE my age! Practically a veteran of the industry! The executives have no business ignoring their employees’ concerns. They hired these people. The higher-ups know that the employees know what they are worried about better. Why dismiss them and silence them?

It’s disheartening how at every turn in the last year, these big tech companies have prioritized profit and “technological advancements” over humanity. If Microsoft were to abide by some code of ethics, progress would be slower, and their bottom line would get thinner. But isn’t it a worthwhile trade?

At this rate, we’ll quickly run out of whistleblowers.

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