Employees at Microsoft on Friday demanded that the company cancel a contract to supply its augmented-reality headsets to the U.S. Army, warning in a letter that putting HoloLens in the military's hands could "help people kill".
The staffers stressed that the company's deal "has crossed the line" into arms development for the first time, adding the use of HoloLens, stipulated by the contract terms, "is created to help people kill", employees wrote in a Friday open letter directed at Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith. As the letter notes, the intent is for the company 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" against America's foes. "We're committed to providing our technology to the US Department of Defence, which includes the US Army under this contract". The company added it will continue to address "important ethical and public policy issues relating to (artificial intelligence) and the military".
Microsoft's HoloLens, a mixed reality smartglass, is seen at Montapacking in Molenaarsgraaf, on April 18, 2017. Under the project, Microsoft, the maker of the HoloLens augmented reality headset, could eventually provide more than 100,000 headsets designed for combat and training in the military, said the report.
It is unclear how many workers have signed onto the letter, but British newspaper The Guardian has reported that as many as 50 employees had signed the document as of Friday afternoon, citing an unnamed worker.
The letter, titled "HoloLens for Good, Not War", was posted on Twitter and encourages other Microsoft employees to sign it. Nevertheless, Microsoft continued to work with the government and did not cede to employees demands.
The employee protest is the latest manifestation of a growing labor movement in the United States technology industry. But the document appears to mark the latest employee-led protest effort at a USA tech giant.
The workers' coalition asked Nadella and Smith to "cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment". While noting that Microsoft already has an AI ethics review process called Aether, the employees write that Aether is "not robust enough to prevent weapons development, as the IVAS contract demonstrates".
Numerous engineers who worked on building the technology believed "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)", the application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is "designed to help people kill".
"Brad Smith's suggestion that employees concerned about working on unethical projects "would be allowed to move to other work within the company" ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work".
"We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard", a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement.
"First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support".