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Microsoft AI chief Harry Shum. Photo illustration: Axios Visuals

Harry Shum, EVP of Microsoft's artificial intelligence and research group, says AI is improving tech products — the real challenge is making sure it does so in a way that people trust.

The bottom line: Shum says the key is a strong code of ethics and a large measure of transparency, two areas of focus for the company.

"All the tech is great. All the products are great... But people worry about them." — Shum, speaking to Axios after a San Francisco event last week.

What they're doing: Shum says Microsoft has established an internal advisory committee on AI ethics and wants to be a leader in an industrywide discussion on the subject.

The big picture: It's not fears of robot overlords that Shum says he is worried about. "It's really about practical implications of AI technology," he says, noting the biggest risks come from issues like algorithmic bias, poor training data and other oversights.

Some other highlights from our discussion:

  • On whether regulation is needed: "It's unclear to me how quickly regulators should come on. ... I think it's really the industry — other big tech companies like us should lead the way."
  • On Tay, Microsoft's first English-language chatbot, which quickly turned into a racist: "It was the first time — maybe, hopefully the only time — I wrote a letter to whole company to apologize. It was our fault. ... Many people asked inside and outside the company, 'Why didn't you have this problem with your Chinese chatbot or your Japanese chatbot?' Every society is different. We should have had that sensibility."

Go deeper

34 mins ago - Health

Axios-Ipsos poll: America looks for the exits after a year of COVID

Data: Axios/Ipsos poll; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

A year after the coronavirus abruptly shut down much of the country, Americans are watching for a clear signal of when the pandemic will be over — and most won't be ready to ditch the masks and social distancing until they get it, according to the latest installment of the Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

The big picture: The poll found that more Americans are expecting the outbreak to be over sooner rather than later, as vaccinations ramp up throughout the country — but that very few are ready to end the precautions that have upended their lives.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
34 mins ago - Health

Many vulnerable Americans have received the coronavirus vaccine

Data: CDC, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

More than two-thirds of Americans 75 and older have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, as have more than half of those 65-74, per CDC data.

Why it matters: Any future surge in cases almost certainly wouldn't be as deadly as previous waves, because older people are the most likely to die from the virus.

3 hours ago - World

Report: "Clear evidence" China is committing genocide against Uyghurs

The scene in 2019 of a site believed to be a re-education camp where mostly Muslim ethnic minorities are detained, north of Kashgar in China's northwestern Xinjiang region. Photo: Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese authorities have breached "each and every act prohibited" under the UN Genocide Convention over the treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in China's Xinjiang province, an independent report published Tuesday alleges.

Why it matters: D.C. think-tank the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, which released the report, said in a statement the conclusions by dozens of experts in war crimes, human rights and international law are "clear and convincing": The ruling Chinese Communist Party bears responsibility.