Published: Mon, February 25, 2019
Markets | By Erika Turner

Microsoft employee group calls for cancellation of Army HoloLens contr

Microsoft employee group calls for cancellation of Army HoloLens contr

Microsoft won a contract in November to supply the Army with at least 2,500 prototypes of augmented reality headsets, which digitally displays contextual information in front of a user's eyes.

Microsoft said in a statement Friday that it is committed to working with the military, including the Army under the HoloLens contract. The headset could also be used as part of an advanced simulation system that would "train units where they will fight (and) with whom they will fight", contract documents show. "To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the US Army's ability to cause harm and violence", the letter read.

"We are going public with the demand to cancel the Hololens DoD contract because we want our voices to be heard on this life or death matter", a Microsoft worker who asked to remain anonymous told Business Insider.

Though many governments want to better draw upon the expertise of the biggest USA tech companies, fresh employee resistance has added a new challenge to already complicated relationships.

"We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military, helping one country's government "increase lethality" using tools we built", the workers wrote.

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. "While the company has previously licensed tech to the US Military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development". But the document appears to mark the latest employee-led protest effort at a United States tech giant.

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The Defense Department in August issued a request for an "Integrated Visual Augmentation System" for training and combat that would give soldiers "increased lethality, mobility and situational awareness. against our current and future adversaries", military purchasing records show.

The internal revolt at Microsoft highlights the heightened activism among employees at tech giants and follows similar uprisings at Amazon and Google, where workers have bristled over their companies' business relationships with the USA military or law enforcement agencies. They called on the company to develop "a public-facing acceptable use policy" for its technology and an external review board to publicly enforce it.

"We'll engage not only actively but proactively across the USA government to advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically", Smith wrote. Later that year, Google suspended its plan to launch a censored search service in China under the project known as Gragonfly, after hundreds of employees openly called it out. Shuffling employees around "ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work".

In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, the workers also say the company is failing to inform its engineers "on the intent of the software they are building".

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

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