Microsoft execs defend bid for US military contract

The company says despite ethical issues, working in the field gives Microsoft influence over how new technologies are used.

Marrian Zhou Staff Reporter
Marrian Zhou is a Beijing-born Californian living in New York City. She joined CNET as a staff reporter upon graduation from Columbia Journalism School. When Marrian is not reporting, she is probably binge watching, playing saxophone or eating hot pot.
Marrian Zhou
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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

James Martin/CNET

Despite employee objections, Microsoft executives stand firm on bidding for US military contracts, says a report in The Wall Street Journal.

On Thursday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President and Legal Chief Brad Smith told employees that a huge Defense Department project called JEDI is the sort of thing Microsoft is committed to working on, according to a Friday story in the Journal. Some Microsoft employees had opposed bidding on JEDI.

Earlier this month, Google walked away from bidding on the same project because of employee objections to the company's prior involvement with Project Maven and the possibility that the project may not align with Google's principles for ethical use of artificial intelligence.

JEDI, aka the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, involves moving massive amounts of Pentagon internal data and processing power to a commercially operated cloud system. The contract could be worth as much as $10 billion.

"We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs," Smith wrote in a blog post published Friday. "They will have access to the best technology that we create. We don't ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes."

Smith said that if employees want to work on a different project, they can try to transfer. He also made it clear that Microsoft won't shy away from potential ethical issues that may arise from working with the military .

"It's important for people across the tech sector to recognize that ethical issues are not new to the military," Smith wrote. But "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. We are not going to withdraw from the future."