AI is here, and it is changing the way many in the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors (and other fields, too, of course) work, or even think about their roles; for some, this is an exciting prospect, for others a deeply threatening one. For most of us, though, it lies in a grey area somewhere in between, even as we know its direct impact on us is imminent. In this series, we set out to get a snapshot of where AI stands right now: what it can actually do, how an expert advises those in philanthropy to approach it, how it’s already being used in the sector, and the ethical considerations and implications of the tool. 

In December 2020, Google fired Timnit Gebru, a leader of its ethical AI team. Since dismissing Gebru, Google let go two other leading AI researchers. In November 2022, Twitter laid off all but one member of its Machine Learning, Ethics, Transparency, and Accountability division. In January of 2023, Microsoft eliminated its Ethics and Society team. In March of 2023, Twitch (owned by Amazon) laid off or reassigned their Responsible AI group.

These most recent dismissals of AI ethics experts by companies at the forefront of the AI transformation occurred in parallel with increased societal concern about AI. AI will create huge societal benefits — and potential burdens in the form of unchecked replication of human bias, accelerating and cementing inequities. Currently, there is a lack of clear financial incentives to consider the ethical aspects of AI in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and impact reporting and an absence of federal AI regulation. Teams focused on AI ethics are costly; as such, ethics staff are vulnerable to technology layoffs, arguably at a time when we need them most. AI is here — and it is clear that philanthropy has a powerful role to play in highlighting and shaping equity in AI in the social and education sector and in our broader society.

Read the full article about driving equity in AI by Sarah Di Troia at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.