Employees at Microsoft call military work unethical

Jermaine Castillo
February 25, 2019

Microsoft workers are calling on their employer to cancel a $480m contract to provide the U.S. army with augmented reality (AR) headsets, saying they "do not want to become war profiteers".

Now, though, some Microsoft developers are speaking out about a contract that will put the device into the hands of the USA military, in order to "increase lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries".

"We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used", reads a petition being circulated inside the company, a copy of which was provided to the Guardian on condition of anonymity. The authors did not identify themselves.

The letter, which has been signed by more than 50 employees, argues that Microsoft has "crossed the line into weapons development" with the contract.

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"We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military, helping one country's government "increase lethality" using tools we built", the workers write in the letter, addressed to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith.

Microsoft's HoloLens, a mixed reality smartglass, is seen at Montapacking in Molenaarsgraaf, on April 18, 2017.

Last year, after workers petitioned the company to cancel a cloud computing and artificial-intelligence contract with U.S. Smith cited the need for the U.S.to have access to updated technology when he responded to these concerns.

The company addressed concerns about working with the United States military back in October through a blog post and a Q&A session held with its own employees. The company referred to that blog post in its response Friday to the letter.

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A Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC: "We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard". As we said then, we're committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract.

"We'll engage not only actively but proactively across the USA government to advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically", Smith wrote.

Bloomberg reported that the contract could eventually lead the military to buy more than 100,000 headsets from Microsoft. The devices would likely incorporate features not included in the civilian version. We ask for the same approach to a policy on ethics and acceptable use of our technology.

Internal opposition has become a persistent issue for consumer technology companies looking to sell products for military and law enforcement use. Last year, Google staffers also began circulating a letter calling on the search giant to end its involvement in a Pentagon project focused on using AI to analyze drone footage. The contract's stated objective is to 'rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.' Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this goal.

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