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Microsoft workers demand it drop US$480m US Army contract

Microsoft workers demand it drop US$480m US Army contract

A group of Microsoft Corp. employees are demanding that the company abandon a $480 million contract with the U.S. Army to build versions of its HoloLens augmented reality headsets for the battlefield, the latest in a series of protests from workers at technology companies objecting to certain uses of the products they're building. 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.

The letter also calls attention to what the employees see as a larger problem within Microsoft; namely, employees aren't "properly informed of the use of their work", the letter says.

Microsoft won the contract in November, as Bloomberg News first reported. But the critics behind the letter feel that engineers who already worked on HoloLens 2 may now be "finding themselves implicated as war profiteers". "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". The contract's stated objective is 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 necessary to achieve overmatch against our current and future adversaries.' Microsoft intends to apply its HoloLens augmented reality technology to this goal.

It's unclear how many Microsoft employees have signed onto the letter so far, but Recode reports that the group numbered around 50 as of 5 p.m. ET on February 22.

The letter, titled "HoloLens for Good, Not War", was posted on Twitter and encourages other Microsoft employees to sign it. "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". Amazon has also faced protests over military contracts, though CEO Jeff Bezos has said the company has no plans to end them - even implicitly rebuking Google for its actions as unpatriotic.

The employee protest is the latest manifestation of a growing labor movement in the USA technology industry.

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They say they "refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression".

To address their concerns, the employees call on Microsoft to cancel the contract, cease developing "any and all weapons technologies", draft a public-facing policy on the commitment, and appoint an independent ethics review board to assess the company's compliance with such a policy.

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.

A Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC: "We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard".

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.