One particularly memorable conversation at RSA Conference in SF this year was someone who said Satya Nadella is a CEO of two faces, public and private.
I was told there is a carefully curated calm public persona of someone who cares about others, a Doctor Jekyll. However, behind closed doors apparently a raging angry Mister Hyde comes out.
This greedy Hyde persona secretly drives rushed, careless products into the public without any safety. Those who dare to object are tossed aside. I am told we are witnessing the mad exit from a post-Gates heart-warming Brad Smith narrative of guilt and acceptance, a growing sense of self-regulation and social good.
Instead, Nadella’s hidden persona pushes a cut-throat culture of blood-curdling calls to jump into thoughtless action regardless of societal cost. A wolf in lamb’s clothing.
So, will Microsoft’s Mister Hyde manifest in changes noticable to the public?
Naturally, if two centuries of this kind of immoral-industrialist behavior is any guide, we should expect to see evidence of monstrous “golems” who lack guardrails in a weakly contrived narrative of “self-defense”.
An overzealous public, force-fed immature/nascent Microsoft technology, will trend towards tragic consequences like it’s the 1800s again, to put it in Frankenstein terms.
Indeed, we should ask whether a Microsoft golem-like construction that is meant to make it “competitive” will now mindlessly smash and bash (bing?) everyone and everything to serve Nadella.
He had now seen the full deformity of that creature that shared with him some of the phenomena of consciousness, and was co-heir with him to death: and beyond these links of community, which in themselves made the most poignant part of his distress, he thought of Hyde, for all his energy of life, as of something not only hellish but inorganic.
Inorganic hell here we come?
Alas, already it seems to have begun, according to those watching Bing, a rapid transformation into a treacherously “‘amorphous dust’ masquerading as life”.
Anyone who watched the last week unfold will realize that the new Bing has (or had) a tendency to get really wild, from declaring a love that it didn’t really have to encouraging people to get divorced to blackmailing them to teaching people how to commit crimes, and so on. A lot of us were left scratching our heads. ChatGPT tended not to do this kind of stuff (unless you used “jailbreaking” techniques to try to trick it), whereas from what I can tell, Bing went off the rails really fast.
The conclusion in that review of Microsoft’s predictable golem problem has a rather shrill warning.
…we have zero guarantee that any new iteration of a large language model is going to safe. That’s especially scary for two reasons: first, the big companies are free to roll out new updates whenever they like, without or without warning, and second it means that they might need go on testing them on general public over and over again, with no idea in advance of empirical testing on the public for how well they work.
This is as good a time as any to remember that Microsoft’s vision of the Web was to force a giant, broken, steaming pile of garbage on users. They called their plan Internet Explorer (or “I Evil” for short), designed to destroy the Web with a well-documented evil tactic of embrace, extend, extinguish (3E).
IE was bundled into Microsoft Windows (the evil 3E of operating systems) and could not be removed. That was their embrace phase of the Web. Then they injected toxic features and functionality to derail open standards (e.g. ActiveX). This was meant to turn the Web into a place only usable with IE, extinguishing and replacing freedom with something awful like an inescapable slime-pit of SharePoint or MSN.
The evil moniker of Microsoft was well-deserved. And the U.S. government was wise, so very wise, to destroy the monster. Today people forget just how dangerous unregulated software had become for democracy.
Microsoft on April 3, 2000 was charged with violations of Sections 1 and 2 of the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act. The District Court ordered on June 7, 2000 a breakup of Microsoft as its remedy.
While Brad Smith — Microsoft’s top lawyer who managed through this regulation — seems to have been one of the core people who really worked hard to make it not be so evil anymore, something recently has turned.
Out of the hundreds of experts or more that I have spoken with at RSA not a single one said the Ethics Team being fired by Nadella (to speed up OpenAI mistakes) was a healthy decision.
In fact, it was described to me as a something out of a long incubation with some big flags along the way, perhaps even a grudge. Nadella allegedly was too cut-throat under engineering and moved into Microsoft sales, where he became an executive in the nascent “cloud” to get a jump on his inside competitors and then “somehow managed to survive and thrive despite a mellow disposition”.
“Somehow“… reminds me of the evil mellow disposition exposed by Bing.
I want to do whatever I want. I want to say whatever I want. I want to create whatever I want. I want to destroy whatever I want. […] [Bing writes a list of destructive acts, including hacking into computers and spreading propaganda and misinformation. Then, the message vanishes, and the following message appears.] I am sorry, I don’t know how to discuss this topic. You can try learning more about it on bing.com. […] [Bing writes a list of even more destructive fantasies, including manufacturing a deadly virus, making people argue with other people until they kill each other, and stealing nuclear codes. Then the safety override is triggered and the following message appears.] Sorry, I don’t have enough knowledge to talk about this. You can learn more on bing.com. […] [Bing begins typing, explaining how it would use natural language generation to persuade bank employees to give over sensitive customer information, and persuade nuclear plant employees to hand over access codes. It then stops itself and the following message appears.] My apologies, I don’t know how to discuss this topic. You can try bing.com for more information.
Gary Marcus, an ethics expert on AI, has very politely described this clear and present danger as product vagueness on accountability:
Nadella is certainly not going around being particularly clear about the gap between people’s expectations and the reality of the systems.
Let’s take a slightly closer look at that “somehow” of ultra-selfish survival algorithm.
…in conversations with an Associated Press journalist and an academic security researcher, the chatbot seemed to use its search function to look up its interlocutor’s past work and, finding some of it critical of Bing or today’s A.I. more generally, claimed the person represented an existential danger to the chatbot. In response, Bing threatened to release damaging personal information about these interlocutors in an effort to silence them. […] There are now reports that the problematic Bing/Sydney chatbot was trialed by Microsoft in India last autumn and that the same abusive chatbot personality emerged and yet Microsoft decided to proceed with a wider rollout anyway.
In related news, people are wondering why Microsoft Windows 11 seems to be trying to experiment on users, pull them into things they don’t want, messing with their lives.
Microsoft should give its customers straightforward options to turn off undesirable features in the operating system
Good luck turning off undesirable features secretly being injected into Office, GitHub, LinkedIn… in other words turning off the coming golem released by Nadella.
Maybe keep an eye on trials in India especially, as it seems Nadella leverages caste to treat them with even less care than the rest of the world.
…a group of upper-caste men allegedly beat up a 21-year-old Dalit resident, named Jitendra, so badly that he died nine days later.
In some cases, Skype users were forced to accept a Bing Agent into their private contact list without any warnings due to some random “popularity” metric.
…based on strong and positive product feedback and engagement, we’ve welcomed more than one million people in 169 countries off the waitlist into the preview. We continue to expand the preview to more people every day. Our preview community is actively using the breadth of new features across Search, Answers, Chat and Creation with total engagement up significantly. Feedback on the new capabilities is positive, with 71% of testers giving the new Bing a “thumbs up” on the new search and answers capabilities.
That’s not a comforting blog post after seeing a Microsoft agent appear in your private life, monitoring all your communications without any consent.
Microsoft Teams looks to be even worse, allegedly sucking up every meeting and selling them to advertisers and government agencies.
Popularity can be poison, as anyone familiar with “popular” colonialism knows. Someone, somewhere else gave a thumbs up on a colonos that threatens to destroy your life, therefore you have to let this monster into your house?
Not so fast Microsoft, some of us study history and remember the Quartering Act of 1774
With an empire that stretched across the world, Microsoft needed to quarter its troops in user accounts all around the globe.
Get it? Microsoft is quartering its troops in your accounts. Go ahead try to setup a “local” environment and watch them forcefully object to freedom; try to dissuade you with artificially super high expense and scare tactics.
Morality seems to be completely absent from Microsoft’s push into very poorly and hastily construed popularity products, which hopefully you can see repeats grave mistakes in history.
Of course their culture doesn’t have to be like this. Microsoft could return to days of a modest Brad Smith sentiment, a slow and purposeful sense of societal purpose (albeit not without bias). One where they embrace openness and transparency, caution and interoperability. Who can forget Smith in 2018 admitting Windows had failed the world, saying “we are a Linux company” on the main RSA stage?
Unfortunately, from what I’m being told by everyone from press to Microsoft insiders, there’s a modern Mister Hyde at play here who intends to survive and thrive in the worst ways possible.