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Microsoft scandal concerning a potential military contract

Microsoft Advertisment - Credit: Microsoft Sweden (flickr)

The 480 million dollars agreement to provide 10,000 HoloLens to the U.S army seems to be heavily controversial around Microsoft community.

HoloLens Advertisement – Credit: Microsoft

After Google and the projects Maven and Dragonfly, after Amazon and Rekognition, it is Microsoft turn to suffer from the accusation of employees denouncing the agreement reached with the U.S Army. On the 22nd of February, hundred employee from Microsoft wrote an open letter on Twitter addressed to the CEO Satya Nadella and to Brad Smith, chairman and legal adviser. In this letter, they were asking the withdrawal from the contract IVAS and the publication of new stricter ethics directives.

The reason for the scandal: a call for tender launched by the American Army (IVAS or Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems) back in November, finally answered by Microsoft. This contract was allowing the multi-million dollar firm to sell 10,000 augmented reality helmet. HoloLens, to the United States government in one time, for 489 million dollars.

The aim of the American army is to use the augmented reality helmet to train, but also to “increase the lethal capacities” of the soldiers providing them more details and training about the different environments – increasing their perception of the battlefield by showing directly the footage of drones inside the HoloLens.

For the hundred employees of Microsoft who signed the letter, this contract should be cancelled.

“The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people to kill. 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.” – Microsoft employees.

Similar event back in 2018

In addition to require from Microsoft to withdraw from the IVAS, the employees also want Microsoft to stop any type of military contracts in the future. Here, the usage of Microsoft’s techonologies is at stake, a comittee of ethics is begging the company to stop any military trade.

Now the employees of Microsoft are waiting for the Firm’s answer. Will they react like Google withdrawing under the pressure or like Amazon, staying inflexible for the sake of “patriotism”. On the 26th of Februrary the CEO Satya Nadella took the decision, and opted for the Amazon option. “We’ve decided to avoid restricting the access to our technologies from the institutions that we have elected and which are defending our freedom.” 

Back in 2018, Microsoft already had protests from employees via an open letter against the army’s asking for a deal concerning data storage on a cloud called JEDI, costing more than 10 billion dollars.

This new scandal for Microsoft happens exactly at the same moment new tests are being done at the World Congress of Barcelona, about the new version of the HoloLens. According to the first leaks emerging around the new version, Microsoft would have a clear advantage compared to their competitors Google and Amazon. Ethics are apparently a secondary matter in this race of giants of technology.

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