Employees demand Microsoft end HoloLens contract with US Army

A Microsoft store

$479,197,708.33-that's how much a US Army contract will pay Microsoft for an "Integrated Visual Augmentation System".

The group, called Microsoft Workers 4 Good, sent a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith requesting they cancel the company's $480 million contract to supply the devices.

Now, though, some Microsoft developers are speaking out about a contract that will put the device into the hands of the USA military, in order to "increase lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries".

In addition to pulling out of the major contract, workers have demanded that Microsoft cease development of "any and all weapons technologies" and draft a policy clarifying that commitment.

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The contract could eventually lead the military to buy more than 100,000 headsets from Microsoft, Bloomberg reported in November. "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", they said. Employees said they were concerned that Microsoft was supplying ICE with its cloud services that include deep-learning capabilities and facial-recognition technology.

The letter goes on to say that Microsoft plans to use HoloLens, its augmented reality headset, for this goal.

These employees take issue with Microsoft's USA military commitments, but the bigger problem laid out in the letter is how the company has handled dissent when it comes to those commitments. This, the employees argue, makes it hard 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. The employee protest letter Friday acknowledged some of those efforts but said more needs to be done to inform engineers of the intent of the software they're building. Last year, Google staffers also began circulating a letter calling on the search giant to end its involvement in a Pentagon project focused on using AI to analyze drone footage.

The employee protest is the latest manifestation of a growing labor movement in the USA technology industry. "If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the US Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble", Bezos said in October.

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The move marks the latest protest by staffers of technology companies vehemently opposing certain uses of the products they manufacture.

"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", Microsoft workers warn.

The group's letter reflects a broader trend of workers at major tech companies coming together to demand greater control over how their work is used.

He said Microsoft would push for policies, however, to ensure that technology was used "responsibly and ethically". 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.

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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.

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