Microsoft Employees Protest Against Bidding on Military Computing Contract

Under CEO Satya Nadella, Microsoft is trying to reduce its dependence on software sales amid declining use of personal computers, and boost its role in services and cloud computing

Employees of Microsoft have issued an open letter requesting that the company not bid on the U.S Military’s JEDI program, joining Google employees who have also refused to bid on the project.

In an article titled “An Open Letter to Microsoft: Don’t Bid on the US Military’s Project JEDI” published on the blogging platform Medium by a user named “Employees of Microsoft,” Microsoft employees asked the company’s leadership not to bid on the U.S. Military’s JEDI contract.

“We joined Microsoft to create a positive impact on people and society, with the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering,” the open letter states. “Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war. When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of ‘empowering every person on the planet to achieve more,’ not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality.”

Microsoft employees have now joined Google in their opposition to the military contract. Google chose not to bid on the contract because the project “may not align with the company’s principles for how artificial intelligence should be used.” Google provided a statement to TechCrunch which reads:

We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles. And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.

The company did, however, add that they are still “working to support the U.S. government with our cloud in many ways.” Bidding on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) began approximately two months ago, currently, the lead contender to receive the contract is Amazon who previously worked for the CIA setting up their cloud.

The full open letter from Microsoft employees can be read below.

We joined Microsoft to create a positive impact on people and society, with the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering. Tuesday’s blog post serves as a public declaration of Microsoft’s intent to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract — a contract that represents a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the Department of Defense. The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building. At an industry day for JEDI, DoD Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II explained the program’s impact, saying, “We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department.”

Microsoft, don’t bid on JEDI.

Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war. When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of “empowering every person on the planet to achieve more,” not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality. For those who say that another company will simply pick up JEDI where Microsoft leaves it, we would ask workers at that company to do the same. A race to the bottom is not an ethical position. Like those who took action at Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, we ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles.

Recently, Google executives made clear that they will not use artificial intelligence “for weapons, illegal surveillance, and technologies that cause ‘overall harm.” This was only after thousands of Google workers spoke out in the name of ethics and human rights. On Tuesday, the company withdrewfrom the JEDI bidding war, since they “couldn’t be assured that it would align with [their] A.I. Principles,” principles they put in place in response to sustained employee pressure. With a large number of workers vocally opposed, executives were left with no choice but to pull out of the bid.

We need to put JEDI in perspective. This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building “a more lethal” military force overseen by the Trump Administration. The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too.

So we ask, what are Microsoft’s A.I. Principles, especially regarding the violent application of powerful A.I. technology? How will workers, who build and maintain these services in the first place, know whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing?

Earlier this year Microsoft published “The Future Computed,” examining the applications and potential dangers of A.I. It argues that strong ethical principles are necessary for the development of A.I. that will benefit people, and defines six core principles: “fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable.”

With JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits. If Microsoft is to be accountable for the products and services it makes, we need clear ethical guidelines and meaningful accountability governing how we determine which uses of our technology are acceptable, and which are off the table. Microsoft has already acknowledged the dangers of the tech it builds, even calling on the federal government to regulate A.I. technologies. But there is no law preventing the company from exercising its own internal scrutiny and standing by its own ethical compass.

Since the cloud and edge solutions listed on Azure’s blog fall under the category of cutting-edge intelligent technology, it should be subject to review by Microsoft’s A.I. ethics committee, Aether. Eric Horvitz (our Research Lab Director) has stated that Aether “has teeth.” But if Aether does not consider this kind of ethical dilemma, then what exactly is it for? With no transparency in these negotiations, and an opaque ethics body that arbitrates moral decisions, accepting this contract would make it impossible for the average Microsoft employee to know whether or not they are writing code that is intended to harm and surveil.

Hundreds of employees within Microsoft have voiced ethical concerns regarding the company’s ongoing contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in which the company provides “mission-critical” Azure cloud computing services that have enabled ICE to enact violence and terror on families at the border and within the United States. Despite our objections, the contract remains in place. Microsoft’s decision to pursue JEDI reiterates the need for clear ethical guidelines, accountability, transparency, and oversight.

Microsoft, don’t bid on JEDI.

Read the blog post on Medium here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan_ or email him at lnolan@breitbart.com

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