Microsoft workers demand it drop US$480m US Army contract

25 February, 2019, 03:47 | Author: Manuel Hopkins
  • 'We won't be war profiteers': Microsoft workers protest $480m army contract

"In November, Microsoft was awarded the $479 million Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the United States Department of the Army".

"While the company has previously licensed tech to the US Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development", reads the letter. Another said several organizers work in the company's cloud computing division, which is competing with rivals Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services to gain more government work.

Many similarly spoke out against Microsoft bidding to create cloud services for the Department of Defense past year, citing similar concerns that workers would not know the potential impact of their creations in advance and that "many Microsoft employees don't believe that what we build should be used for waging war". We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country's government "increase lethality" using tools we built.

It seems any launch of Microsoft's HoloLens 2 will not be without controversy.

Previous year the company signed a $479 million contract with the US Army to provide headsets that could be used in training and combat. Those outcries didn't impact Microsoft's work with ICE, but elsewhere in the tech industry, Google employees were successful in pushing the company to abandon an AI contract with the Pentagon and end work on a censored search product for China. But the document appears to mark the latest employee-led protest effort at a U.S. tech giant. Under the contract, Microsoft would be required to provide more than 100,000 headsets designed for combat and training in the military.

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The internal revolt at Microsoft highlights the heightened activism among employees at tech giants and follows similar uprisings at Amazon and Google, where workers have bristled over their companies' business relationships with the USA military or law enforcement agencies. "The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is created to help people kill".

But in a statement to PCMag on Friday, Microsoft added: "We'll remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in addressing the important ethical and public policy issues relating to AI and the military".

The workers' coalition asked Nadella and Smith to "cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment". "It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated "video game", further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed".

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. Extending this core mission to encompass warfare and disempower Microsoft employees, is disingenuous, as "every person" also means empowering us. Now, dozens of the firm's employees have got together to send a letter to Satya Nadella and Brad Smith (President and Chief Legal Officer) to contest the US$480-million agreement.

He said Microsoft would push for policies, however, to ensure that technology was used "responsibly and ethically".

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