Microsoft employees call for suspension of defence contract

Employees at Microsoft are protesting the company’s $480 million contract to supply the US Army with augmented-reality headsets in a letter in which they claim they “did not sign up to develop weapons.”

Microsoft was awarded the so-called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) contract with the US Department of the Army in November. Under the terms of the contract, Microsoft is to “rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that Soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness necessary to overmatch against out current and future adversaries.”

For the signatories of the letter, updating the HoloLens device to fulfill the contract, would see Microsoft cross the line “into weapons development.”

HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality headset, was first released in 2016. It allows the wearer to add digital content over the real world. CEO Satya Nadella is expected to unveil the HoloLens 2 at the Mobile World Congress on Sunday in Barcelona.

“We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used,” the employees wrote, adding: “Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.”

Instead, they call on Nadella and president and chief legal officer Brad Smith to cancel the IVAS contract, cease to develop any and all weapons technology and appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce any publicly validated compliance with this policy.