Hololens headsets for the Army blasted by Microsoft workers

Microsoft

Microsoft workers yesterday demanded that the company abort a $479 million contract providing the Army with HoloLens headsets, calling it a corruption of designers’ and engineers’ earlier work and an affront to those opposed to designing weapons for war.

In a letter addressed to Microsoft’s chief executive and its president, Microsoft Workers 4 Good, an organization of employees created at the end of January, also demanded that the company stop developing any weapons technologies, commit to an acceptable use policy for its products, and appoint an ethics board to audit that commitment.

Microsoft Workers 4 Good tweeted the letter yesterday afternoon; by late last night, the group said more than 100 employees had signed it.

In November, Microsoft and the Army reached an agreement to develop an “Integrated Visual Augmentation System,” based on the Hololens augmented reality platform. The Army, according to reports at that time, explicitly said the technology is meant to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.”

Hololens was announced in January 2015 and has yet to launch as a consumer product. A development kit sells for around $3,000. Reports in late 2018 suggested that Microsoft has sold about 50,000 of the devices. The Army by itself would buy twice that amount in the contract.

“The application of HoloLens within the [Integrated Visual Augmentation System] is designed to help people kill,” the employee letter said. “It 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.”

In November, Microsoft president Brad Smith defended the company’s collaboration with the military, noting that the two have worked together for more than 30 years. “We believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” Smith said. He said that employees who opposed developing technologies for the military could be accommodated by a transfer to other projects or work teams within the company.

The employee group on Friday said that “ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work.” The letter noted that “many engineers contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed,” on the assumption it would be applied to fields as disparate as architecture, surgery, automotive design and space exploration. “These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.”

Microsoft Workers 4 Good, according to its Twitter page, organized so that workers could “hold Microsoft accountable to their stated values.” It has previously criticized the company’s political action committee for making contributions “to candidates not acting in the interest of Microsoft’s core values” — specifically, conservative or right-wing politicians.

Friday’s letter was directed at Smith and Satya Nadella, the Microsoft CEO. A Microsoft spokesperson, in a statement to The Guardian, did not respond to the substance of the group’s criticisms but said the company “always appreciates feedback from employees.”

Comments

How many people have died using plans developed on machines running Windows? Point is there is probably plenty of commercial products leveraged by militaries around the world to wage war. When Google gets the contract instead and MS downsizes their AR divison I wonder if they will feel differently. All that being said what they’re doing is admirable, but it seems like cherry picking and it could wind up hurting them while the requested tech still makes it to the battle field.

They do have a few points that makes Hololens unique in battle as compared to other MS products that are used by the military. I mean, PowerPoint is probably the second most deadly when it comes to planning lol. But Hololens would be on the battlefield, distancing soldiers from what they’re actually doing by making it appear more like a game than reality.

I really don’t see HoloLens on soldiers during battle. Yet. Doctors, engineers, mechanics, planning again is more realistic.

Hard disagree, you’re going for a "black and white" when it’s far more complex than that. This is direct applications to military technology we’re talking here.

Isn’t complaining that military = bad by the "4 Good" group "black and white?"

To be fair the military is bad.

In what sense?

I don’t agree with Azraelsfall but, I interpret "The military is bad" because its #1 purpose to kill or threaten to kill other people. Sure they do ALOT of humanitarian work and aid people all over the world. But their primary job is to kill their enemy… and their enemy job is to kill them. It is the way of the world.
"I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

It’s certainly bad that the military is a necessity. It doesn’t make the thing itself bad. It’s like saying I have a bad heart and need a pacemaker to survive. The underlying condition can be defined as "bad". But the solution, however invasive would not typically be considered "bad".

Well the US military is the largest polluter in the world, drones are used for targeted extrajudicial executions and the Us military facilitates regime change and genocide globally. That help?

Like even as a former airman I feel no love for the military. It’s a hive of abuse and right wing politics where you’re taught to cheer on things like the Agent Orange campaigns and the near genocidal bombings of the DPRK. You’re taught that we should be proud of people who pulled the trigger in Iraq when we did the Highway of Death. It’s a horrible horrible life where you or someone you work with will do something horrible guaranteed.

Thanks for the question.

The military serves various functions, in this case, it seems the Hololens is being given "training and battlefield applications". Which seems like a direct contribution to what certain employees of Microsoft are worries about.

While the US military (along other organizations) does take relief action and interfere in conflicts when needed (Bosnia) the fact that they may use say tools in wartime isn’t the only concern for some. Many Americans are concerned with the ever-growing budget of the military, as we can probably agree, 479 million dollars is checks notes a lot of money.

For some, the US Military, which has been in several sustained military actions in the Middle East without end, which was recently deployed to the US/Mexico border at the behest of an unpopular President, and which has received vast criticisms from veterans of the organization for being slow to care for its service members, is viewed very negatively.

The issue here is more that Microsoft was going to be actively developing for the Military. Not just selling them technology. In the past the military would buy contracts and just deal with the development issues themselves.

In the past

When though? Fighter planes in WWII were military contracts. This is just the military contracting yet another company to build stuff.

Many of those companies actually started as military before moving to private.

How many people have died using plans developed on machines running Windows?

This is ridiculous. You could similarly ask how many people have died because front-line soldiers got a good night’s rest in a sleeping bag or had the strength to work that day because they had food made by farmers.

Which is to say, there’s a significant difference between things everyone uses in their day-to-day life and things that are custom-made for military purposes.

When Google gets the contract instead and MS downsizes their AR divison I wonder if they will feel differently.

I would be very surprised if any of these people would change their minds due to such an event; they are vocally criticizing and pushing back against their own company, and that fact alone immediately puts their jobs at risk.

Windows for Submarines anyone? The most frightening is it’s based on XP.

General: "Fucking Windows ’98! Get Bill Gates in here!"
[Gates enters] "You told us that Windows ’98 would be faster and more efficient, with better access to the Internet!"

Bill Gates: It is faster, over 5,000,000— [the General shoots Gates in the face]

"These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers."

That’s a stretch. People don’t consider employees at Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, et. al to be "war profiteers", so they certainly don’t think that of MS engineers. If you want to label yourself as that, then ok. Just take comfort in knowing that nobody else thinks this.

It’s great that these 100 employees (out of over 130,000) can provide their feedback and not risk losing their jobs. But I’m gonna be that guy and say that if they have such a moral objection then why not start searching for another job? And if you think that working on a project like this makes you a "war profiteer", then you may want to look outside of the tech industry.

People don’t consider employees at Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, et. al to be "war profiteers"

Uh, yeah, they do.

Guess I should be more specific and say the majority of people grounded in reality.

They do tho. Commercial applications of their technology pales in comparison to their military contracts.

Okay at least for Boeing you can make the argument that they do both and that you’re aware of them at least doing contract work. Not even close for Raytheon or Lockheed Martin. I mean Northrop Grumman even got push back from people at NYCC for attempting a crossover with Marvel because of its military ties.

Anyone who works for Lockheed is a war profiteer.

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