What just happened? In a letter sent to CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith, employees are calling for Microsoft to cancel their contract with the U.S. Army. The contract would see Microsoft deliver as many as 100,000 HoloLens headsets to support the Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System program. Employees feel the contract is not only amoral, but an erosion of their ability to have a say in how their work is used.

Microsoft employees have issued an open letter addressed to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and president Brad Smith protesting the controversial $480 million contract Microsoft inked with the U.S. Army to provide AR technology.

Under the terms of the contract, Microsoft would supply as many as 100,000 HoloLens headsets to support the Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS. IVAS is a program designed to "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy."

Microsoft's employees, particularly those who have worked on HoloLens development, have vehemently objected to this. The letter, allegedly signed by more than 50 employees already, was published Friday afternoon and outlines employees' moral stance on the contract.

We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression. 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 letter, which also cites Microsoft's past dealings with the military, states that the company is crossing the line into weapons development with the contract. The employees state that they believe IVAS will turn warfare into a simulated video game, while distancing soldiers from the reality and bloodshed of war. Moreover, the employees feel they've lost their say in how their work is used, believing "it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP)."

As such, the letter demands that Microsoft:

  • Cancel the IVAS contract
  • Cease any and all weapons technologies and development, and draft a public policy to back that commitment
  • Appoint an external ethics review board to enforce the policy and ensure compliance

This is the latest manifestation of an increasing dissent between tech companies and their employees. Last year, Microsoft again faced internal criticism for their involvement with ICE amidst the policy of separating families at the border. Google halted their partnership with the Pentagon to work on drones after widespread, internal backlash. Google also faced protest and walkouts over their handling of misconduct and discrimination, leading to the trending #GoogleWalkout late last year.

While Microsoft has stated that they remain receptive to the voice of their employees, the company also reiterated its longstanding relationship with the Department of Defense. It remains to be seen whether or not Microsoft will accede to any of the employee demands.