Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

'We Refuse to Create Technology for Warfare and Oppression': Microsoft Workers Demand Company End Army Contract

"As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer

The Hololens is demonstrated at the Penn Museum. (Photo: Penn Libraries-TRL/flickr/cc)
Declaring to chief executives that they refuse "to become war profiteers," a group of Microsoft workers on Friday demanded the company cancel a contract with the U.S. Army that they say would "help people kill" and turn warfare into a "video game."

Their open letter is addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, and, according to the "Microsoft Workers 4 Good" Twitter handle, which posted the document, it got over employee 100 signatures in its first day.

At issue is Microsoft's $479 million contract to supply the military's Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) program with augmented reality headsets. It's for a platform that the government says is intended to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide, and engage before the enemy."

Microsoft would use it HoloLens technology for the contract. 

Taking this step, however, would be something Microsoft has never before done: "cross[ing] the line into weapons development," the workers write.

"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 states. "Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology."

Smith's suggestion that workers who find a project "unethical" find a different project to work on is problematic, the workers explain:

There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP). These engineers have now lost their ability to make decisions about what they work on, instead finding themselves implicated as war profiteers.

[...]

Microsoft's mission is to empower every person and organization on the planet to do more. But implicit in that statement, we believe it is also Microsoft's mission to empower every person and organization on the planet to do good. We also need to be mindful of who we're empowering and what we're empowering them to do. Extending this core mission to encompass warfare and disempower Microsoft employees, is disingenuous, as "every person" also means empowering us. As employees and shareholders we do not want to become war profiteers. To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the U.S. Army's ability to cause harm and violence.

In addition to ending the IVAS contract, the workers demand that Microsoft:

  • Cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment; and
  • Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.

Microsoft, for its part, confirmed on Friday its committment to helping the military.

Technology giant Google faced similar criticism from workers last year for its work on drone and artificial intelligence (AI) technology with the U.S. military. Following the outcry, Google announced it would not renew its contract on the Pentagon program known as Project Maven. 


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
We need your help.

Support progressive journalism.

Common Dreams is not your average news site. We don't survive on clicks or advertising dollars. We rely entirely on your support. And without it, our independent progressive journalism simply wouldn’t exist. Every gift of every amount matters.

Join the fight and support our common dreams today.

Share of Fossil Fuels in Global Energy Mix 'Has Not Moved by an Inch' in a Decade

"We are waking up to the bitter reality that the climate policy promises over the past 10 years have mostly been empty words," said the executive director of REN21, which released the new report.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·


Latest Nina Turner Ad in Ohio Highlights Working-Class Need for Medicare for All

"Wealth should never dictate whether you are able to see a doctor or live a healthy life."

Jenna McGuire, staff writer ·


Biden Admin Urged to 'Prevent a Historic Wave of Evictions' by Extending CDC Moratorium, Speeding Up Aid

"Far too many renters are struggling to access emergency rental assistance programs and are at risk of losing their homes when the moratorium expires," said the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·


Democrats Unveil Decriminalization Plan to End 'Mass Devastation' of Failed US Drug War

"50 years. That's how long our government has waged a war—not on drugs, but on people."

Julia Conley, staff writer ·


Norwegian 'People vs. Arctic Oil' Case Heads to European Human Rights Court

"We have to take action now to limit irreversible damage to our climate and ecosystems to ensure livelihoods for the coming generations," said one activist.

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·