Microsoft employees speak out against the United States military's HoloLens contract

Satya Nadella chief executive of Microsoft

Satya Nadella chief executive of Microsoft

Now, dozens of the firm's employees have got together to send a letter to Satya Nadella and Brad Smith (President and Chief Legal Officer) to contest the US$480-million agreement.

Military bidding documents say the new technology - which the Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System - will be used for both training and warfighting.

The letter, titled "HoloLens for Good, Not War", was posted on Twitter and encourages other Microsoft employees to sign it.

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.

Employees said they were concerned that Microsoft was supplying ICE with its cloud services that include deep-learning capabilities and facial-recognition technology. "The contract's 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", the letter states.

"While the company has previously licensed tech to the US military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development", employees wrote. You can read the letter in full here.

The same presumably applies to developers who are now committed to avoiding working on the HoloLens, but as their statement points out, "there are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP)". "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 Microsoft workers also take issue with the company's internal policies, which they argue don't do enough to bar it from weapons development. A source also said that the timing ahead of Microsoft's MWC event was intentional. According to a MS employee speaking to The Guardian, more than 50 employees had signed shortly after the letter was posted.

A Microsoft spokesman said, "We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard". Google, for example, opted past year against renewing one of its contracts with the Pentagon - a partnership to develop image-recognition tools for drones - because employees felt that the tech giant shouldn't be in the "business of war", they said at the time.

The letter also asks Microsoft to stop building any weapons technologies and appoint an independent ethics review board to determine acceptable uses of Microsoft technology.

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