Whose side is Big Tech on? That’s the question as Microsoft employees signed a petition calling on their employer to stop working with the United States military.
Nearly 100 employees united against Microsoft working with the Defense Department, according to Reuters. Microsoft had agreed to sell the military its HoloLens headset, an augmented reality device to be used for tactical purposes. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used," the petition proclaimed. The concern was that this virtual reality device would turn warfare into a “video game”-like experience “distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed."
Microsoft had previously won this contract in November 2018. It is slated to supply the Army with at least 2,500 prototypes of these headsets. The government has stated that the purpose of these devices is to bolster soldiers’ “lethality, mobility and situational awareness.”
The Microsoft employees announced the petition letter via their twitter “Microsoft Workers 4 Good,” describing their intent that HoloLens be used “For Good, Not War”
Microsoft responded to the petition on the same day by expressing that, while it appreciated the workers’ concerns, it will go forward with this contract.
When he was defending Microsoft’s cooperation with the military last October, company President Brad Smith proposed two key points. “First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support,” Smith explained. He followed this by adding “second, to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way.”
Employees at other tech companies have taken similar stands against their employers’ dealings. Google has had employees in uproar over their A.I technology being used for drone strikes. They expressed their deep conviction that “Google should not be in the business of war.” This dissent caused Google to walk away from a contract with the Pentagon’s Project Maven last June. Google also dropped out of the competition to gain the JEDI $10 billion cloud computing defense contract last October because it would conflict with their corporate values.
Employees at Google also united against the pro-censorship Dragonfly search engine which was being developed at the time for the Chinese market.