Microsoft workers protest use of HoloLens headsets for war

Ann Santiago
Февраля 25, 2019

Microsoft workers are calling on the company's management to drop its nearly $480 million contract with the USA military to build versions of its HoloLens augmented reality headsets for war purposes.

"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", the workers wrote.

The letter also calls attention to what the employees see as a larger problem within Microsoft; namely, employees aren't "properly informed of the use of their work", the letter says.

In other cases, employee criticism has invited greater public scrutiny to deals, such as $10 billion cloud computing contract yet to be awarded and various contracts with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The letter goes on to point out that many engineers worked on HoloLens before the contract existed, and are now seeing their work repurposed for military use. "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", they said.

"Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this goal". Under the project, Microsoft, the maker of the HoloLens augmented reality headset, could eventually provide more than 100,000 headsets designed for combat and training in the military, said the report.

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A Microsoft employee who helped draft the letter - speaking on the condition of anonymity out of concerns about retribution - shared a copy with The Washington Post and verified that the co-signers work at the company. Previous year it was revealed that the company was providing services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, following which hundreds of employees signed an open letter demanding that the company ends its relationship with the agency. A staff petition at Google past year pushed the company to retreat from a Pentagon contract that could have totaled up to $250 million. Protesting employees believe this "crossed the line" into weapons development. "But we can't expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation".

They say they "refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression". "While the company has previously licensed tech to the United States military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development".

"3) Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy". "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". The group wrote that the company needs to do a better job informing engineers about what their work will be used for.

He said Microsoft would push for policies, however, to ensure that technology was used "responsibly and ethically".

A Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC: "We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard".

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