Technical workers are increasingly troubled by their employers' work with the US government, especially the military. Some protests have led to real change: Last year, Google decided not to renew a contract with the Pentagon to apply artificial intelligence to drone recording after 4,000 employees signed a petition that protested at the event.
Last week, a group of Microsoft workers published a prayer asking leaders to terminate a contract to develop magnified reality technology for the US military. "We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand an expression of how our work is being used." The petition, which was published on Twitter, says.
Monday, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella revealed the accused. "We made a fundamental decision that we should not hold back the technology of institutions we have chosen in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy," Nadella told CNN Business at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Petition, as a group of Microsoft Workers 4 Good claims has more than 200 signatures, came in response to a $ 479 million contract, first reported in November, of which Microsoft will develop prototype HoloLens enlarged reality systems for the US army. According to the petition, the stated goal of the contract is to "rapidly develop, test and produce a single platform that soldiers can use to fight, practice and train, providing increased mortality, mobility and situational awareness needed to achieve overmatch against our current and future opponents. "
The petition recognizes that Microsoft has a history of selling technology to the US military, but claims that the contract" crosses the line into arms development. "
Nadella's comments Monday echoed a blog post published by Microsoft President Brad Smith last year after employees protested Microsoft's bid for a Department of Defense cloud computing contract known as JEDI or "Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. "
"We believe in the strong defense of the United States as we want people who defend it to access the nation's best technology, including from Microsoft," wrote Smith. He said that employees who would not work on specific projects, for whatever reason, could move to other projects. A Microsoft spokesperson repeated this notion on Monday and added that the company will remain engaged as an active corporate citizen in tackling the key ethical and public issues associated with AI and the military.
Microsoft Workers 4 Good did not respond to a direct message via Twitter.
In other signs of technical employee unrest with the government, Microsoft employees published last year an open letter protesting against the company's work for immigration and customs prosecution. And a contributor to the Open Source Code Management Tool Lerna changed the project's license to ban ICE or organizations working with ICE, including Microsoft, from using the software. The licensing change was quickly reversed.
The protests have had the greatest impact on Google. Having announced that it would not renew the drone image contract, known as Project Maven, the company published guidelines for its future artificial intelligence work. These guidelines allow the company to work with the military, but the company later said it would not bid on the JEDI contract because it could not be guaranteed that the work would adapt to the principles.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos doubled down on doing government work and said at the WIRED25 summit: "If big companies are going to return to the US Department of Defense, this country will be in trouble."