Microsoft employees wrote an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith on March 3 demanding they cancel a $479 million Hololens contract with the U.S. Army.
The letter was released on Twitter by the group Microsoft Workers 4 Good, a self-described “global coalition of Microsoft workers,” who are against Redmond-based company contracting with the U.S. government, specifically for the integrated visual augmentation system (IVAS) contract that would tailor Hololens technology to both train soldiers and assist them in live-combat operations.
“Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology,” the workers stated in the open letter.
The group said that while Microsoft had contracts with the military before IVAS, those deals never extended to active weapons development.
“With this contract, it does,” the workers wrote.
The group demanded that the IVAS contract be canceled and that Microsoft should cease developing any and all weapons technologies for any party. They also called for a public acceptable-use policy and an appointed external ethics board to enforce the policy.
Microsoft signed the Hololens contract back in November 2018 and has actively pursued lucrative contracts with the military in recent months. In January, the tech giant won a five-year $1.76 billion contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) that would develop “product engineering services for software developers,” according to the statement released by the DoD.
The workers stated on Feb. 25 that more than 250 Microsoft employees had signed the letter urging Microsoft’s leaders to cancel the IVAS contract. The letter was released two days ahead of Microsoft’s appearance at the Mobile World Congress 2019, where the company unveiled upgraded Hololens technology among other products. The workers are actively encouraging more Microsoft employees to sign the letter to get the attention of Microsoft’s leaders.
Smith outlined the company’s policy on working with the military back in October 2018 in Microsoft’s official blog, saying that while they respected their employees’ views, Microsoft as a company would continue to “be engaged,” with the U.S. military.
“We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes,” Smith said. “As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team — for whatever reason — we want them to know we support talent mobility.”
A spokesperson from Microsoft put forth the same idea in an email to the Reporter, calling back to Smith’s blog.
“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,” the spokesperson 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.”
On Feb. 25, Nadella responded to the letter in an interview with CNN, saying that employees were free to cease working on projects they had personal reservations about. Microsoft currently employs more than 47,000 people in Washington, with the vast majority working at its Redmond headquarters and Bellevue offices.
Microsoft is pursuing another military contract separate from IVAS. The company is bidding alongside Seattle rival Amazon for a sizable $10 billion dollar deal for the Pentagon, called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) deal. The JEDI contract entails redeveloping the DoD’s end-to-end IT infrastructure for the cloud.
Microsoft Workers 4 Good did not respond to a request for a comment about the company’s JEDI bid.
This story originally appeared in the Redmond Reporter, a sibling paper of The Daily Herald.