A group of Microsoft employees signed an open letter urging the company to cancel its nearly $480 million contract with the U.S. military.
Under the terms of the deal, which was awarded in November, Microsoft would provide the U.S. Army with the holoLens augmented-reality headsets which would then be used to “increase lethality” by “enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.”
“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” the letter said. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”
The letter was addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith. At least 50 employees have signed the letter so far, according to Axios, but are choosing to remain anonymous.
In addition to demanding the company terminate the IVAS contract, employees said they want the company to “cease developing any and all weapons technologies” as well as appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce an acceptable-use policy.
“While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. military, it has never crossed the line into weapons development,” employees wrote. “With this contract, it does. The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill.”
A Microsoft spokesperson defended the deal in a statement to FOX Business.
“We’re committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract,” the spokesperson said. “As we’ve also said, we’ll remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in addressing the important ethical and public policy issues relating to AI and the military.”
This is not the first time that employees have protested Microsoft’s work with the Pentagon.
In June, hundreds of employees threatened to resign unless the tech giant ended its contract, worth $19.4 million, with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Employees said they were concerned that Microsoft was supplying ICE with its cloud services that include deep-learning capabilities and facial-recognition technology.
Officials at Microsoft previously defended their decision to work with the military, despite backlash from employees who believe the technology, like artificial intelligence, will be weaponized and used to kill people.
“As we have discussed these issues with governments, we’ve appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war,” Smith wrote in a blog post published in October. “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.”