Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has defended the megacorp’s decision to partner with the US Military despite complaints from its own staff, stating: "We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy."
The partnership between the US Army and Microsoft is to use the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) with HoloLens tech to "increase lethality" of acting military, by "enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy".
In an open letter on Twitter, a group of Microsoft employees united as Microsoft Workers 4 Good called on Microsoft president Brad Smith and CEO Satya Nadella to cancel the $479 million IVAS contract and call for "stricter ethical guidelines". The petition – which has now been signed by over 250 Microsoft staff – also called for the company to cease weapon tech development and design an acceptable use policy for its products, as well as establish a new ethics board to monitor Microsoft’s activities.
"The application of HoloLens within the [Integrated Visual Augmentation System] is designed to help people kill," Microsoft Workers 4 Good states. "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." The letter further alleged that "many engineers contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed".
"We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy," Nadella told CNN. "We were very transparent about that decision and we’ll continue to have that dialogue [with employees]."
Nadella added the company was "clear-eyed about the responsibility [Microsoft has] as a corporate citizen" and said: "It’s not about taking arbitrary action by a single company, it’s not about 50 people or 100 people or even 100,000 people in a company. It’s really about being a responsible corporate citizen in a democracy."
Tim Sweeney was onstage at MWC for the reveal of Microsoft’s next-gen AR headset this week, where he announced that Unreal Engine 4 will have native platform integration for Microsoft’s new HoloLens 2 from May.