More than 100 Microsoft employees have signed an open letter protesting a nearly $480 million contract to provide the U.S. Army with augmented-reality headsets.
Under the Integrated Visual Augmentation System contract, which Microsoft was awarded in November, the U.S. Army plans to purchase as many as 100,000 HoloLens augmented-reality headsets.
The contract’s stated goal 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,” employees said in the letter.
More than 100 employees signed onto the open letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, titled “HoloLens For Good, Not War.”
“We did not sign up to develop weapons,” employees said. “We demand a say in how our work is used.”
The HoloLens application in the IVAS contract “works by turning warfare into a simulated ‘video game,’ further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed,” they added. “Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.”
Employees noted in the letter that the company “has previously licensed technology to the U.S. Military,” but up until this contract it hasn’t “crossed the line into weapons development.”
They are demanding that Microsoft cancel the nearly $480 million contract, cease weapons development, and an independent ethics review board on acceptable use of Microsoft technology.
Microsoft officials previously defended their decision to work with the military after backlash in June with hundreds of employees threatening to resign over a $19.4 million contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Employees were concerned back then that Microsoft’s cloud service and facial-recognition technology was being used as children were being separated from their parents.
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