Employees of tech giant Microsoft have demanded that the company ends its $479m contract with the US Army to provide augmented reality (AR) HoloLens headsets, accusing their employer of corrupting designers' and engineers' work, stating that "intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology".
Microsoft Workers 4 Good, an organization of Microsoft employees, addressed the company via a letter that it then shared publicly on Twitter on February 24.
"While the company has previously licensed tech to the US Armed Forces, it has never crossed the line into weapons development. With this contract it does," the letter read.
"The application of HoloLens within the integrated visual augmentation system (IVAS) is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield and works by turning warfare into a simulated 'video game', furthers distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed," it added.
On behalf of workers at Microsoft, we're releasing an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, demanding for the cancelation of the IVAS contract with a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
If you're a Microsoft employee you can sign at: https://t.co/958AhvIHO5 pic.twitter.com/uUZ5P4FJ7X
— Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@MsWorkers4) 22 February 2019
The workers' group insisted that Microsoft listen to its concerns and cancel the IVAS contract, cease developing any weapons technology and appoint an independent, external ethics review board to ensure the company will comply.
Microsoft was awarded the contract with the US Army in November 2018 to equip the fighting force with up to 100,000 prototypes of HoloLens AR headsets to be used to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy".
However, Microsoft defended its decision at the time, with president and chief legal officer Brad Smith stating: "AI, AR and other technologies are raising new and profoundly important issues, including the ability of weapons to act autonomously. As we have discussed these issues with governments, we've appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war.
"But we can't expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation," he added.
The company has not directly responded to the Microsoft Workers 4 Good's demands, but a Microsoft spokesperson told The Guardian that the firm "always appreciates feedback from employees".