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Microsoft chief urges industry to focus on ethics and privacy

Businesses must focus on GDPR and ethical AI if they are to become software firms, says Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

In his opening keynote at the second day of the Future Decoded conference in London, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called on the industry to make privacy a core value.

“Privacy is a human right,” he said. “All of us will have to treat privacy as a human right. GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation] is a great start, it sets the standard for how people need to see privacy globally.”

Nadella called on the industry to share malware data to ensure the most vulnerable members of society and small to medium-sized enterprises [SMEs] can remain safe in cyber space.  

“The challenges of cyber security affects common citizens and SMEs, it requires nation starts and industry to be part of that,” he said. “All tech vendors can use the data to protect customers.”

Nadella also urged delegates to adopt new technology quicker, which he described as “tech intensity”.

“Computing is getting deeply embedded in the world, every part of our life is being digitised,” he said. “There isn’t an industry that is not being fundamentally changed by digital technology.

“To succeed, every organisation will need to have tech intensity. We have to adopt technology in ways that is much faster than the way it was done in the past. Each organisation will have to build its own digital capabilities because every company is a software company.”

As businesses become more software-savvy, more companies will take advantage of advanced software such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms. “There isn’t an application that won’t use AI,” said Nadella. “A lot of breakthroughs have been driven by compute, data and algorithms.”

From a Microsoft perspective, AI is being commoditised through Azure AI and Cognitive services. But as AI is commoditised, the question of how to use it ethically is raised.

“If AI is trained for one purpose and used for something else, that is unethical,” said Nadella. “We need to tackle unintended consequences of tech – it is a collective responsibility.”

He added that Microsoft is building debuggers for AI to detect bias in machine learning, enabling companies to deploy AI models that are ethical and accountable.

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