Microsoft Provides Weapons Tech to DOD Amid Employee Protests

Nikki Diefenbach

As SuperPosition reported last year, Google let their contract expire after mass resignations and protest by employees over the Maven project with the DOD. They emphasized how much they valued their employees’ feedback and responded in kind.

Around the same time the Google contract expired, Microsoft won a $479 million contract with the military to provide over 100,000 second-generation HoloLens headsets. According to the IVAS contract, their goal is to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.”

A group called Microsoft Workers 4 Good wrote an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith in protest of delivering mixed reality technology to the US Army. The letter demands that they:

  1. Cancel the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS);
  2. Cease developing any and all weapons technology, and draft a public facing use policy clarifying this commitment;
  3. Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.

The letter, which hundreds of employees have signed to date, states that:

“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”

Nadella defended Microsoft’s contract in an interview with CNN Business, saying that “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy, and we were very transparent about that decision and we’ll continue to have that dialogue [with employees].”

There seems to be a disconnect between what Microsoft and hundreds of its employees view as their role in protecting “freedom” and how that relates to the potentially lethal results of mixed reality on the battlefield.

Reality Changing Observations:

Q1. What would a legally-binding ethical contract between tech companies and the military look like? How can engineers codify the things they are ethically opposed to and create the legal framework to prevent their work from being misused?

Q2. How can one balance an ethical determination not to develop weapons while supporting military technological investments that may protect troops?

Q3. What can you tell your elected representative about how to use our military ethically and what their tech needs are that works towards creating a better world?