AP NEWS

Microsoft workers urge company to abandon Army contract for headsets meant to ‘increase lethality’

February 23, 2019

Microsoft employees on Friday urged executives to cancel the company’s contract with the U.S. Army for building battlefield-ready headsets.

“We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression,” the employees wrote in an open letter circulated online. “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. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”

Addressed to Satya Nadella and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s CEO and president, respectively, the letter took aim at a 2018 contract in which the company agreed to supply the Army with roughly $480 million worth of augmented-reality “HoloLens” headsets.

The contract’s stated objective, the employees noted, 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.”

“While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract, it does,” the employees protested. “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.”

“Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology,” the employees added.

Scores of Microsoft workers had added their names to the letter as of Friday evening, Buzzfeed reported.

“We always appreciate feedback from employees and provide many avenues for their voices to be heard.” responded a Microsoft spokesperson, BuzzFeed reported. “In fact, we heard from many employees throughout the fall. 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. 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.”

Microsoft is hardly the only Silicon Valley giant to come under fire from employees lately for contracting with the military. Google similarly faced internal pressure to abandon Project Maven, a controversial Pentagon drone project, prior to recently agreeing to end its involvement starting next month.