A group of Microsoft Corp. employees are demanding that the company abandon a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army to build versions of its HoloLens augmented reality headsets for the battlefield, the latest in a series of protests from workers at technology companies objecting to certain uses of the products they're building.
The letter was addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith.
The Microsoft workers said they are alarmed that their company is working to provide weapons technology to the USA military, "helping one country's government "increase lethality" using tools we built".
Microsoft said in a statement Friday that it is committed to working with the military, including the Army under the HoloLens contract.
The contract involves providing HoloLens augmented-reality tech for soldiers, but the workers say it makes them into unwilling "war profiteers".
A Microsoft employee who helped draft the letter - speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concerns about retribution - shared a copy with The Washington Post and verified that the co-signers work at the company. But the document appears to mark the latest employee-led protest effort at a USA tech giant.
Some Microsoft employees feel the company's business entanglements with the USA military aren't OK, and they want the bosses to know about it. "As we've also said, we'll remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in addressing the important ethical and public policy issues relating to AI and the military". 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. Protesting employees believe this "crossed the line" into weapons development.
They say they "refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression".
"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", the letter specified regarding the contract, which, Bloombergreported, could eventually lead the military to buy more than 100,000 headsets from the company. "While the company has previously licensed tech to the USA military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development". But they're also pushing for a publically accessible acceptable use policy to prevent any further development in weapons technology, and an independent ethics board appointed to uphold that policy.
The group's letter reflects a broader trend of workers at major tech companies coming together to demand greater control over how their work is used. "The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is created to help people kill". In a document shared with companies that bid on the contract, the Army said it wanted the devices to include night vision and thermal sensing, as well as technology that could be used to monitor for concussions. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Microsoft said it would allow employees to change positions within the company if they thought their existing roles betrayed their values.
"First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support".
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