Staff Letter Asks Microsoft To Pull HoloLens Deal For Military

It seems more and more technology company employees are raising their voices against their companies' contracts with government agencies when hi-tech offerings are used by the military or by what employees consider high-handed law enforcement officials. At least 50 Microsoft employees have demanded the company back out of a deal with the US military to provide augmented reality technology. Last year, Google employees raised concerns to Google CEO Sundar Pichai about the company’s involvement with Project Maven, a program involving the use of AI technology to interpret drone footage and improve strike accuracy.

The Microsoft employee group has said, in particular, that the firm’s headset, HoloLens, must not be used to “help people kill,”

In November, Microsoft agreed a $479 million (£367 million) deal to develop a platform that would involve soldiers using about 100,000 headsets.

"We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard," a Microsoft spokesperson said.

A letter sent around Microsoft on Friday and seen by the BBC has been backed by employees across multiple departments.

“Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the US Army’s ability to cause harm and violence,” it reads.

“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”

HoloLens, first released to developers in March 2016, allows the wearer to see digital images laid over the real world. Microsoft's chief executive Satya Nadella is expected to announced HoloLens 2 at an event in Barcelona on Sunday, ahead of the Mobile World Congress trade show.

The letter demands Microsoft cancel the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract, stop developing “any and all” weapons technologies, and draft a public policy statement on the matter.

It also calls for an “independent, external ethics review board” that would oversee compliance with that policy.

It is not the first time that Microsoft employees have spoken out against the firm's work with government entities.

In June, with the Trump administration mired in controversy over family separations on the US-Mexico border, staff demanded the firm cease providing services to the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).