Microsoft to keep Pentagon bid amid ethics concerns


Officials at Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle this week maintained their decisions to work with the US military, despite backlash from employees who have expressed concern that technology, such as artificial intelligence, could be weaponized by the Pentagon to kill people.

Smith does concede that not all employees are going to be so keen to work with the military.

Smith says Microsoft will extend its more than 40-year relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense because the company believes its home country should have a strong military with the best technology. Amazon's Jeff Bezos responded in an interview at Wired25 that he thinks that it's a mistake for big tech companies to turn their back on the US military.

"As is always the case", the post continues, "if our employees want to work on a different project or team - for whatever reason - we want them to know we support talent mobility".

"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war", read a letter addressed to Sundar Pichai, Google's chief executive officer, and signed by company employees, according to The New York Times.

"We follow in the steps of the Googlers who spoke out against the Maven contract and Microsoft employees who are speaking out against the JEDI contract", the person wrote.

"Recently Microsoft bid on an important defense project". "And second, to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way".

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The blog post comes as employees raise questions about Microsoft's defense work and as the company bids for a big Pentagon cloud-computing contract.

Throughout the piece, Smith continued to walk a fine line between patriotic duty to support the USA military, while carefully conceding that there will be different opinions in a large and diverse company population (some of whom aren't US citizens). "We are not going to withdraw from the future".

However, it was unclear how many employees were behind the letter. In the post, which Medium said was verified by its editorial staff, the purported employees argued against bidding on the JEDI contract because the company might not have control over how its algorithms are used to fight wars.

Amazon was widely viewed among Pentagon officials and technology vendors as the front-runner for the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI.

Google decided not to renew its involvement in Maven and this week backed away from the cloud computing contract, citing similar concerns about values. In the blog post, Smith cited the JEDI contract as an example of the company's desire to work closely with the USA government.

'We will continue to pursue strategic work to help state, local and federal customers modernize their infrastructure and meet their mission critical requirements'. Those points state the company would steer clear of "technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm" and "weapons or other technologies whose principal goal or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people".