Microsoft Employees Protest Contract That Provides US Army with HoloLens Headsets

By: Marie Donlon

More than 90 Microsoft employees have signed a petition calling on the company to cancel its contract with the U.S. Army amid concerns that the Army will use Microsoft’s HoloLens virtual reality (VR) headsets to turn actual battlefields into video games.

According to the petition, the HoloLens headsets, which were acquired through a $480 million contract with the Army announced in November of 2018, will enable U.S. soldiers to spot and kill enemies on the battlefield. Calling on Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith to cancel the contract, the employees wrote that they refuse to create technology for the purpose of warfare and insisted that the technology "…will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated 'video game,' further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed."

Additionally, the employees also requested that Microsoft stop creating weapons technologies and appoint an independent ethics review board for the purpose of determining acceptable applications of Microsoft technologies.

However, the Army, which refers to the system as its Integrated Visual Augmentation System, insists that the technology will enable soldiers to train and fight with improved situational awareness so that they are more mobile and lethal. Likewise, Microsoft announced that it will continue to work with the U.S. military, suggesting in a 2018 blog post that those who defend the country should have "access to the nation's best technology." The company also added that it will continue to address "important ethical and public policy issues relating to [artificial intelligence] and the military."

As technology continues to evolve, more and more companies and advocacy groups are speaking out against the emergence of controversial tools such as facial recognition software and AI. Last year, Google employees quit the company in protest over a Pentagon Drone AI program called Project Maven that would use AI to analyze and flag drone footage of combat zones. Similarly, a coalition of activist and advocacy groups recently called on Google, Amazon and Microsoft not to sell their respective facial recognition technologies to law enforcement. The coalition warned that facial recognition technology enables the government and law enforcement to unfairly target specific individuals, including immigrants, people of color and religious minorities.

This article originally appeared on Engineering360.