Microsoft employees speak out against the USA military's HoloLens contract

Microsoft Workers Protest Use of Holo Lens Headsets for War

'We won't be war profiteers': Microsoft workers protest $480m army contract

The employees claim that Microsoft has never before crossed the line when working with the USA military, but that this new contract, Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), does cross the line and brings Microsoft into weapons development. The contract was awarded to Microsoft on November 20, and today some of the company's employees have written an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith protesting the move and asking the company to "Cease developing any and all weapons technologies".

In a petition to Microsoft executives, posted on Twitter, workers said they "did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used".

At the time, Microsoft president Brad Smith defended the company's decision to support the USA military, writing in a blog post, "We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs".

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On Friday, a group of workers at the Redmond, Washington-based tech giant released an open letter in which they slammed a $749 million contract the company holds to develop an "Integrated Visual Augmentation System" (IVAS) to build "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".

"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.

The HoloLens displays from Microsoft are headsets that use Augmented Reality, which means users can see virtual imagery superimposed over the scenery in front of them.

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Microsoft employees are demanding that the company cancel a contract supplying the U.S army with HoloLens headsets that, according to them, would turn a real-world battlefield into a videogame.

By late Friday, more than 100 employees had signed the letter.

In June 2018, backlash from employees prompted Google to backtrack and not renew a contract with the Defence Department after workers resigned in protest against using artificial intelligence for drone footage analysis. 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. "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". The group wrote that the company needs to do a better job informing engineers about what their work will be used for. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Microsoft said it would allow employees to change positions within the company if they thought their existing roles betrayed their values. "The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is created to help people kill". We ask for the same approach to a policy on ethics and acceptable use of our technology. But implicit in that statement, we believe it is also Microsoft's mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to do good.

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