In an announcement that surprised no one, Microsoft today unveiled HoloLens 2, the revolutionary “mixed reality” device that landed the tech giant a nearly half-billion dollar contract with the U.S. military.
— Microsoft (@Microsoft) February 24, 2019
As Microsoft executives basked in the glory of the $3,500 device at MWC 2019 in Barcelona, some of its employees were weeping. These workers are terribly upset over the HoloLens. They charge that the legendary software company has “crossed the line” into weapons development.
They have publicly rebuked the company via Twitter (of course, where else to blast your own employer?). Through the social media platform, Microsoft workers posted a letter in which they demanded Microsoft cancel a contract with the U.S. Army, which agreed to pay nearly $480 million to buy around 100,000 customized HoloLens 2 headsets.
Bloomberg reported that the U.S. Army and the Israeli military have already used Microsoft’s HoloLens devices in training. Future plans include them being used for “live combat.”
Here’s a demo of the HoloLens in combat action.
Microsoft Workers Whine That U.S. Army Wants to Buy HoloLens 2 Devices
That’s a bit much for some Microsoft workers. The outraged group of employees, Microsoft Workers 4 Good, wrote in their letter:
“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built. We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”
The disgruntled workers also wrote that the HoloLens was augmented reality technology that, under the scope of the contract, “is designed to help people kill.”
Here’s the full open letter sent to CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith.
On behalf of workers at Microsoft, we're releasing an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, demanding for the cancelation of the IVAS contract with a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
If you're a Microsoft employee you can sign at: https://t.co/958AhvIHO5 pic.twitter.com/uUZ5P4FJ7X
— Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@MsWorkers4) February 22, 2019
Well, if that’s the sole reason the HoloLens was created, then off with the company’s head!
However, as with most exaggerated comments, this one begs for more information, as well as plain old-fashioned common sense.
The military doesn’t send in troops on the battlefield to play nice with the enemy. Soldiers, often, have to kill enemy combatants. That’s just the reality of warfare.
Engineers Claim They Didn’t Know Devices Would be Used by Military
Elsewhere in the letter, the disgruntled group of Microsoft workers take their employer to task for not informing its engineers “on the intent of the software they are building.”
That’s an odd, if not disingenuous, statement in light of a blog post Microsoft put out just last fall about its technology and the military.
In the post, Microsoft made it clear that it strongly believed in supporting the U.S. military with its technology.
“[We] want the people who defend the U.S. to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft.”
One of the most important things that flies in the face of the Microsoft Workers 4 group’s claim is this statement:
“We understand that some of our employees may have different views. We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes.”
Microsoft-Army Deal Should be Source of Pride – Not Rage
For those who don’t support that particular position, Microsoft has plenty of other jobs that can suit the individual preferences of the workers.
“As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team – for whatever reason – we want them to know we support talent mobility. Given our size and product diversity, we often have open jobs across the company and we want people to look for the work they want to do, including with help from Microsoft’s HR team.”
It’s fair to say that if Microsoft abides by these statements, it’s a pretty good deal for its employees. Many workers at other firms find that they have to just deal with it when it comes to not working on projects of their own choices. If they can’t deal with it, they quit.
- demand their employer cancel multi-million contracts;
- pen letters to their company’s CEO and president and post them to Twitter;
- AND keep their jobs
Most workers would be head over heels about their company garnering such a noteworthy deal as the contract Microsoft has landed with the U.S. Army. To know that their own work, or that of their colleagues, contributed to the contract should be something to brag about – not throw a temper tantrum over.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of, nor should they be attributed to, CCN.
Microsoft HoloLens 2 Image from REUTERS / Sergio Perez