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150 Microsoft workers demand ending $480M Army contract

Microsoft's new Research building "99" in Redmond, WA. (Robert Scoble/Flickr)
February 26, 2019

Hundreds of Microsoft employees are demanding their company cancel a $480 million U.S. Army contract because they don’t want to advance weapons technology that would help increase the military’s lethality.

The original contract from November 2018 was for Microsoft to deliver some 2,500 prototypes of “augmented reality headsets,” which provide a digital interface that displays vital information before the user’s eyes,  according to Reuters. However, more than 150 employees want the HoloLens contract rescinded and to prevent any developments on weapons technology.

The Army said the goal of the contract was 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,” Fox News reported.

The employees took to Twitter on Friday sending a plea to Microsoft executives. In it, they said, “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.”

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Further, they demand the company develop “a public-facing acceptable use policy” to use moving forward and an external review board to police it.

Microsoft said that the company always welcomes advice and comments from their personnel. The statement further reiterated on what Microsoft President Brad Smith said, in that the company is dedicated to supporting the military with technology developments, but they would also stand behind new laws that would safeguard the use of them.

Smith said, “we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft.”

A Sunday statement from Microsoft said, “We gave this issue careful consideration and outlined our perspective in an October 2018 blog. We always appreciate feedback from employees and provide many avenues for their voices to be heard. 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 not the only company that is contending with employees challenging technology developments and to whom and how they are being used.

In 2018, Alphabet Inc. refused to reinstate their contract with the Pentagon where drone imagery could be evaluated through the company’s artificial intelligence technology.

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The Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud computing contract, along with contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have been challenged as well.