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Microsoft workers call for end to HoloLens contract with US Army

"We did not sign up to develop weapons," says the group.

A HoloLens headset being used with an architecture application.

A HoloLens headset being used with an architecture application.

Microsoft

A group of Microsoft workers is calling on the company to ditch its multimillion dollar HoloLens contract with the US Army.

"We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression," the group said in an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith. The group posted the letter to Twitter on Friday.

"We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US military," the letter continues, "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."

In November, Microsoft landed a $480 million contract to supply the Army with prototype HoloLens augmented reality systems for use in combat missions and training. The previous month, the tech powerhouse had said that despite ethical issues, working in the defense field gave the company influence over how new technologies would be used.

In response to the Friday letter, the company pointed to its October blog post on the issues around working with the military and said it stands by its decision to provide technology to US forces.

"We gave this issue careful consideration and outlined our perspective in an October 2018 blog," a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement. "We always appreciate feedback from employees and provide many avenues for their voices to be heard.

"We're committed to providing our technology to the US Department of Defense, which includes the US 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."

Last year, employees at Google pushed back against that company's work on the Pentagon's Project Maven, an initiative to use artificial intelligence to improve the analysis of drone footage. A handful of Google employees resigned, and in April more than 4,000 workers reportedly signed a petition addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai demanding he cancel the project. In June, Google said it wouldn't renew the Maven contract or pursue similar contracts, though it would still work with the military.

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