A group of Microsoft employees today called on the company to cancel a $480 million contract it recently inked with the U.S. Army. In an open letter addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, the employees stated that they "refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression" (via Recode)
The contract in question could see the Army purchase upwards of 100,000 HoloLens headsets for combat and training purposes. When the contract was announced last November, it was described as a program to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide, and engage before the enemy" using HoloLens tech. It's precisely this intention that the employees have objected to.
"The application of HoloLens within the [Integrated Visual Augmentation System] is designed to help people kill," the letter states. "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."
To address their concerns, the employees call on Microsoft to cancel the contract, cease developing "any and all weapons technologies," draft a public-facing policy on the commitment, and appoint an independent ethics review board to assess the company's compliance with such a policy.
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. This, the employees argue, makes it difficult for employees to be informed enough to make the decision to move to another project – an option Microsoft President Brad Smith has indicated is open to employees who may have ethical objections to how their work is being used.
It's unclear how many Microsoft employees have signed onto the letter so far, but Recode reports that the group numbered around 50 as of 5 p.m. ET on February 22.
This is the latest in a string of movements by employees in the tech industry against projects their employers are working on. For Microsoft, the letter is reminiscent of the backlash Microsoft faced from employees last June over its work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during amidst the controversy surrounding U.S.-Mexico border crisis. Those outcries didn't impact Microsoft's work with ICE, but elsewhere in the tech industry, Google employees were successful in pushing the company to abandon an AI contract with the Pentagon and end work on a censored search product for China.
The letter also comes ahead of Microsoft's February 24 Mobile World Congress 2019 event, where it's expected to take the wraps off of HoloLens 2.