A group of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) employees are urging their employer to cancel a nearly $480 million contract it has with the U.S. military. In an open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith published on Twitter, a group called Microsoft Workers 4 Good, wrote: “We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression.” The letter was also published on an internal message board and circulated through email to employees at the company.
The letter continued on to say: “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. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.” At least 50 employees who have chosen to remain anonymous have signed the letter so far. Microsoft employs almost 135,000 people worldwide.
The U.S. Army announced the contract with Microsoft in November. Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft would provide the Army with HoloLens augmented-reality headsets developed specifically for what the Army calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System. Military bidding documents say the new technology would be used for both training and warfighting.
Microsoft doesn’t appear to see an issue with the work that the company is doing under the contract. Microsoft said in a statement, “We’re committed to providing our technology to the U.S. Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army under this contract. 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.”
Employees of the company have protested Microsoft’s work with the federal government before. Last year, Microsoft workers published an open letter protesting the company’s $19.4 million contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to supply the agency with cloud services that included facial-recognition technology and deep-learning capabilities. Hundreds of employees threatened to resign over the matter.