Microsoft employees are outraged over the company’s $480 million deal with the U.S. Army to provide them with Hololens2, Microsoft’s latest augmented-reality headsets, to be used on the battlefield. Although Microsoft won the contract in November, it was last Friday, that Microsoft workers took to Twitter to express their concerns. In an open letter, addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, and president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, employees wrote that the deal has “crossed the line” and “is designed to help people kill.”
On behalf of workers at Microsoft, we're releasing an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, demanding for the cancelation of the IVAS contract with a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
If you're a Microsoft employee you can sign at: https://t.co/958AhvIHO5 pic.twitter.com/uUZ5P4FJ7X
— Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@MsWorkers4) February 22, 2019
This is not the first time tech workers have stood up in solidarity against tech giants over discrepancies in business or policies. Last year, ‘Employees of Microsoft’ asked Microsoft not to bid on US Military’s Project JEDI in an open letter. Google employees also protested against the companies’ censored search engine in China, codenamed Project Dragonfly. In October 2018, an Amazon employee has spoken out against Amazon selling its facial recognition technology, named, Rekognition to the police departments across the world.
Yesterday, Microsoft unveiled the HoloLens2 AR device at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. They also signed a contract with US military services called Integrated Visual Augmentation System. Per the terms of the deal, the AR headsets will be used to insert holographic images into the wearer’s field of vision. 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 said.
What are Microsoft employees saying?
The letter which was signed by more than 100 Microsoft employees, was published on an internal message board and circulated via email to employees at the company on Friday. The letter condemned the IVAS contract demanding for its cancellation and a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
“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. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the letter said. Aligning Hololens2 with military turns “warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed,” adds the letter.
In October, Brad Smith defended Microsoft’s work with the military, via a blog post, “First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support. And second, to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way. We are not going to withdraw from the future.” He also suggested that employees concerned about working on unethical projects “would be allowed to move to other work within the company”. This statement ignores “the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work”, the letter stated.
Netizens are also in solidarity with Microsoft employees and criticize the military involvement.
I'm a 20+ year retired #USAF disabled VET and do not want to see @Microsoft @HoloLens in any type of #weapons development contract with the #USMilitary or any other military organization in the #World! Let's stop producing #technology for the purpose of destroying #HumanLife! pic.twitter.com/SOXvgskLDJ
— Tracy Karin Prell (@tracy_karin) February 25, 2019
Honestly theyre 2 steps away from shuttering their games division and focusing on Hololens' military applications.
— DeeMarquEE (@Durrtydoesit) February 25, 2019
that's what they said about drones, and yet there have been huge numbers of civilian casualties resulting from the drone program (bear in mind as well that the US military automatically classifies all deaths of males aged 15-80 as combatants).
— Ciaran (@cgallagher036) February 25, 2019
A comment on Hacker news reads, “Whether you agree with this sentiment or not, people waking up to ethical questions in our field is unquestionably a good thing. It’s important to ask these questions.”