Microsoft Employees Protesting $479 Million Army Contract

#1

Just saw this on PCGamer. It made me think about a few things. One how shitty it must be to think you’re working on really important tech, to later realize your bosses wanna sell it so it can be used to kill people. Then made me think about all the games that basically glorify future military tech. I remember especially loving Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter on the Xbox 360, and now we don’t seem very far away from that.

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#3

Microsoft has been doing military contract work for years this isn’t new. The U.S. Navy pays them to keep patching old versions of Windows that no one should be using for example.

Also how is this exactly a surprise to them? I feel like the minute the Holo lens was shown everyone knew what purpose this tech had. Did they just expect to clean their hands by leaving that to third-party software developers? That’s like designing a gun and arguing you had no idea it would be used to shoot people.

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#4

But they are saying now that it isn’t ok, that they don’t want to do that. Isn’t that a good thing? Are you complaining that they are protesting? I thought this forum was all about employees putting pressure on employers.

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#5

That’s not a very good analogy. A gun is designed to kill, Hololens was not. When they first showed it, it was playing Minecraft on a coffee table.

I can’t shake the unnerving image of real soldiers having little orange Doritos in their visors, letting them now who to shoot, just like Battlefield 3. If I was on the Hololens team I’d be livid.

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#6

There’s an argument to be made that developers should be able to predict future uses of technology they’re working on, even if at the time no contracts exist. I do appreciate that’s not always an easy call. AR arguably would be an obvious candidate but whether or not MS would be contracted isn’t. I can understand that there’d be a whiplash going from developing consumer technology to suddenly seeing that repurposed into a military tool and it’s good on them to make their voices heard, although I hope that they’re prepared to do more than sign an open letter.

Ethics in tech development and research in general should be a thing taught in curriculums (mine—physics—did not but maybe some programs do). We’re seeing more and more “neutral” tech be anything but: neural networks incorporating structural biases (or trained by exploiting cheap labor in poor countries), IT systems turned into surveillance, algorithms spreading hate speech because it drives engagement and so on. Young people shouldn’t just be trained to do their job but to identify the potential negative impact of it.

OpenAI recently made the news because they are not releasing a new version of their AI until they have a better understanding of what it’s capable of. I’m not saying that it’s a good company or that their goals are moral but realizing that your work can harm people and pulling the brakes should be a minimum expectation. Related to that, the company has also seemingly written a paper advocating for working with social scientists on AI developments which at least is a breath of fresh air compared to how discussions with STEM people often seem to hate those fields.

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#7

No of course not, I’m confused as to how they didn’t see this coming. If this was a company that had no prior history of doing military contract work I could understand but this is Microsoft.

This is a problem in tech, people want to make cool things but they never stop to think about the ethics behind it. They convince themselves that’s a management issue and not theirs because they are excited about just being paid to make this awesome piece of tech and then when something nefarious is done using their tech it’s always a “well we never considered that possibility” even though everyone outside the circle can right away.

Again there is no way in which you make an AR HUD and not think it looks like the kind of thing out of a military shooter. If they didn’t think Microsoft was going to directly support they had to know a third party was and honestly that’s just as ethically bad.

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#8

I started writing a post here but it got really long and mixed up and I feel like I don’t have a coherent take that’s worth sharing right now. I just want to post a link to the actual statement from the employees because I think it’s worth reading: https://twitter.com/MsWorkers4/status/1099066343523930112

They explicitly call out previous military contracts and are saying this new contract is crossing a line into weapons development that they don’t agree with. I’m really not sure how I feel about that, on the one hand I can see what they mean, but on to other I agree it’s worth considering the full history of a company’s relationship with the military industrial complex.