Last Tuesday, Microsoft announced plans to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, which is a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the Department of Defense. However, over this weekend, an account named ‘Employees of Microsoft’ on Medium has urged the company not to bid on the JEDI project in an open letter. They said, “The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building.”
At the time of writing, no further details about the ‘Employees of Microsoft’ Medium account apart from the fact that the open letter is their first post, have come to light. We are unaware of whether this account genuinely represents a section of employees at Microsoft and if they do, what number of employees have signed this open letter. No names have been attached to the open letter.
Earlier this month, Google announced that they will not be competing for the Pentagon’s cloud-computing contract. They opted out of bidding for project JEDI saying the project may conflict with their principles for the ethical use of AI. In August, Oracle Corp filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office(GAO) against the JEDI cloud contract. Oracle believes that the contract should not be awarded only to a single company but instead, allow for multiple winners.
DoD Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II explained the program’s impact, saying, “We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department.” Many Microsoft employees agree that what they build should not be used for waging war.
Per the letter, “When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of empowering every person on the planet to achieve more, not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality.” They also alleged that with JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray the principles of “reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusiveness, transparency, and accountability” in exchange for short-term profits.
What do Microsoft employees want?
Microsoft employees have asked strong questions such as, “what are Microsoft’s A.I. Principles, especially regarding the violent application of powerful A.I. technology? How will workers, who build and maintain these services in the first place, know whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing?”
They want clear ethical guidelines and meaningful accountability on which uses of technology are acceptable, and which are off the table. They also want the cloud and edge solutions listed on Azure’s blog to be reviewed by Microsoft’s A.I. ethics committee, Aether.
Not just that, the petitioners have also urged employees of other tech companies to take similar actions asking questions like, “how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and then act according to your principles.”
Many employees within Microsoft have also voiced ethical concerns regarding the company’s ongoing contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Per this contract, Microsoft provides Azure cloud computing services that have enabled ICE to enact violence and terror on families at the border and within the United States. “Despite our objections, the contract remains in place. Microsoft’s decision to pursue JEDI reiterates the need for clear ethical guidelines, accountability, transparency, and oversight.”
Read the entire open letter on Medium.