Microsoft reaffirms its Commitment to the Pentagon
$480 Million Hard to Walk Away From
Cristal M Clark
In a world where most big tech companies turn down lucrative government contracts, Microsoft is leaping at the opportunity and has seemingly doubled down on its commitment to the Pentagon. That commitment just so happens to be a $480 million contract to build augmented reality technology for the United States Army.
That commitment has not gone over well with a group of employees at Microsoft who have urged the companies leaders to back out of the $480 million dollar contract. In an open letter to chief executive Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith, employees said the effort amounts to “weapons development” and they “refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression.”
Right, okay that is fair, do they need the jobs that they currently hold or…and technically, according to the contract, Microsoft would not be developing any weapon software or weapon technology, technically, what the contract is being used for is to aid our soldiers, not to kill but to survive. I am not sure about anyone else, but I prefer to see our soldiers come home up right and alive as opposed to in a flag draped casket. Sometimes the wars we are forced to fight are for a bigger humanitarian effort other than our individual personal beliefs.
Despite a growing tension between tech companies and the national security sector here in the US Microsoft is offering some help at least.
The realities are that we are somewhat behind other foreign entities with regards to augmented reality technology, cyberweapons not to mention that some other countries are in fact, utilizing cybercriminals in addition to hired employees or militaries to create cyberwarfare technology and that includes augmented reality.
It is no secret that here in the United States, the Pentagon is several steps behind other countries and they face a really big problem in that they cannot seem to recruit anyone away from big tech companies to go to work for them, a problem that the Pentagon is not yet ready to face the realities of. So they have a limited number of options, hire criminals or beg, grovel and shell out major bank to get a tech company to help.
The risk to that is that they lose some semblance of control by outsourcing, one traitor on the inside can cause major issues long before they are caught doing so. The other risk is that technology is bought and sold for the right money, certain code or malware can be built into it, backdoors, that includes unfortunately technology that is built exclusively for the pentagon.
The other issue is that Microsoft will seems to like to develop tech for the highest bidder, I believe the name of the game in terms of war or not is that you really want to be one step ahead of everyone else in the pack, hence does the Pentagon not want better toys than what Microsoft might also be selling to others? Remember, outsourcing means one loses some of the control over what toys are sold and to whom.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told CNN last Monday that the company will in fact not, “withhold technology” from democratic governments. Then, later in the day Microsoft debuted the HoloLens 2, the latest version of the company’s augmented reality headset, at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
Under the contract, Microsoft will provide up to 100,000 of its HoloLens headsets to the Army for use in military training and combat operations. The headsets would be outfitted with artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities which would provide troops with “increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness.” By overlaying soldiers’ field of vision with an assortment of environmental data, the tech would help them more easily spot and engage with potential enemies. The headset would also merge “live and virtual environments” to allow soldiers on the ground to “train as they fight.”
Microsoft has repeatedly vowed to create technology for the military but the question remains for which military?
All of them or just that of the United States?
In October, Google took itself out of the running for the JEDI cloud contract, citing ethical issues and concerns in that it could not or would not meet the department’s security requirements. Then over the summer, the company also pulled out of a controversial military artificial intelligence program called Project Maven after employees raised concerns about the project’s lethal intentions.
Microsoft employees have voiced their opposition to both the JEDI program and a separate effort to provide cloud services for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the last year if not longer.
While others in the tech sector are distancing themselves from federal defense and national security efforts which is not good, Microsoft does not necessarily create the most superior tech in the field and by sticking with one player, it really does limit our militaries options.
Cristal M Clark