Microsoft’s $480 million contract to supply HoloLens technology to the US Army appears to have triggered an internal employee protest.
“We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression,” reads an open letter from the anonymous employees that began circulating on Friday.
The letter, titled “HoloLens for Good, Not War,” was posted on Twitter and encourages other Microsoft employees to sign it. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the letter adds.
The US Army awarded the $480 million contract to Microsoft back in November with the goal of developing an augmented reality headset fitted with sensors and AI-powered tech that soldiers can wear for both training exercises and real missions.
“This platform will provide increased Lethality, Mobility and Situational Awareness,” reads the US Army’s original announcement for the project. “The Army requires innovative technological solutions to address current and future security threats.”
However, the authors behind the letter say the contract goes too far to help the US Army. “While the company has previously licensed tech to the US Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract it does,” the letter reads.
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
The letter goes on to claim Microsoft’s HoloLens technology will end up turning warfare into a “video game,” which will further distance soldiers from the grim reality of war. The Microsoft workers also take issue with the company’s internal policies, which they argue don’t do enough to bar it from weapons development.
“There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed,” the letter adds. “These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.”
In response to the letter, Microsoft has been telling media outlets: “We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard.”
PCMag hasn’t managed to confirm the identities of the letter’s writers. But the document appears to mark the latest employee-led protest effort at a US tech giant. Last year, Google staffers also began circulating a letter calling on the search giant to end its involvement in a Pentagon project focused on using AI to analyze drone footage. Due to the employee backlash, Google eventually ditched the project.
Friday’s letter, which is addressed to company CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith, demands Microsoft not only cancel the US Army contract, but cease developing any weapon technologies in the future.
The authors behind the letter also want Microsoft to create an independent, external ethics review board to ensure the tech giant is in compliance with the no weapons development policy.
An organizer behind the letter told PCMag that so far 69 Microsoft employees had signed the document.