The companies CEO & President stand by their decision to license HoloLens technology to the US military.
Last week a collection of Microsoft employees penned a letter to the companies CEO, Satya Nadella, and its president, Brad Smith, expressing their open discontent regarding a $479M contract with the United States military that would introduce roughly 100,000 HoloLens MR headsets to the battlefield.
The letter, entitled HoloLens For Good, Not War, clarifies the workers refusal to participate in the development of technology designed specifically for “warfare and oppression.”
“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,” states the disgruntled employees in the letter. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”
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 application of HoloLens within the Integrated Visual Augmentation System [IVAS] is designed to help people kill. 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 employees go on to stress a lack of transparency in how their work is being utilized. Brad Bird has previously stated that employees troubled by the ethics of a particular project “would be allowed to move to other work within the company.” Many engineers worked on the HoloLens well before said contract was drafted, working under the assumption the device would by used by hospitals or by NASA.
While it’s true that Microsoft has previously partnered with the US military on range of projects, HoloLens integration with the IVAS system would mark the first time the company licensed its technology for combat-specific purposes. According to the contract, the primary stated objective is 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.”
While speaking with CNN Business at the Mobile World Conference, Nadella defended the decision, reconfirming the company’s commitment towards providing new technologies to organizations dedicated towards the defense of democratic values.
“We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” states Nadella.
“We were very transparent about that decision and we’ll continue to have that dialogue [with employees].”
As part of their protest, employees demand Microsoft cancel the IVAS contract, cease the development of all weapons technologies and release a public-facing use policy verifying their commitment, and appoint an independent, external ethics review board that has the power to both enforce and publicly validate compliance with the aforementioned use policy.