In November of last year, Microsoft entered a $479 million contract with the US Army for the Microsoft HoloLens, a mixed reality headset. A group of Microsoft employees formed a coalition, called Microsoft Workers 4 Good, in January, and have recently released an open letter addressed to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, and Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer. The letter calls for the cancellation of the contract and invites Microsoft workers to sign the letter in support of their cause.
On behalf of workers at Microsoft, we’re releasing an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, demanding for the cancelation of the IVAS contract with a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
If you’re a Microsoft employee you can sign at: https://t.co/958AhvIHO5 pic.twitter.com/uUZ5P4FJ7X
— Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@MsWorkers4) February 22, 2019
As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, the group has submitted the letter after finding serious ethical issues with the contract with the US Army. According to the letter, which was Tweeted by the group on Friday, engineers who have worked to develop the HoloLens 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 letter stated that the contract‘s stated objective is to use the device 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.”
Members of the group argue that they did not make the HoloLens to be used as a weapon, and “demand a say in how our work is used.” The open letter calls for the cancellation of the IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System) contract, a complete halt on all development of weapons technologies by the company, as well as a “public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment,” and the appointment of an independent ethical review board with the power to enforce the aforementioned policy.
Microsoft has responded to employee concerns regarding the contract. According to Nadella, Microsoft will forge ahead with the Army contract but will be transparent and continue dialogue with employees. Nadella told CNN Business 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.” It would seem that the powers that be at Microsoft are at a crossroads with those they employ to create technology such as the HoloLens, and it will be interesting to see how the decision to dismiss the demands of the Microsoft Workers 4 Good will affect the company in the future.