Microsoft to keep working with U.S. military, despite AI concerns

Microsoft President Brad Smith defends company's work with U.S. military

Microsoft President Brad Smith defends company's work with U.S. military

This according to a blog post published Friday by company President Brad Smith laying out Microsoft's position on this controversial question of the current contracting zeitgeist. He wrote that he and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed employee concerns about Microsoft's military work in a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday, and conceded some workers are still uneasy about it.

They referenced Department of Defense Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II telling attendees of an industry event: "We need to be very clear".

'Our work as a company in this space is based on three straightforward convictions, ' he wrote.

"We understand that some of our employees may have different views", Smith wrote. "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".

Nevertheless, 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.

Earlier this month a blog post appeared on the publishing platform Medium on the day bids were due for a massive US military cloud contract.

'We believe that the debate about the role of the tech sector and the military in this country has sometimes missed two fundamental points.

Americans, and especially those who serve in the military, should know "that we at Microsoft have their backs".

"We'll engage not only actively but proactively across the USA government to advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically".

"The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it almost impossible to know what we as workers would be building", the post reads.

Google, who has since dropped out the running for a cloud computing contract with the Pentagon due to a conflict of corporate values, have been criticised by Oracle founder Larry Ellison.

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Therefore, Microsoft decides to bid for the DOD's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project called "JEDI" that will strengthen the DOD's end-to-end IT infrastructure, he added.

Microsoft should adhere to its own recent publication, The Future Computed, that laid out ethical guidelines for building artificial intelligence, the letter stated. 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.

Smith's letter followed an October 12 "Open Letter to Microsoft" purportedly signed by an unspecified number of Microsoft employees.

In October, Google announced the company would cease efforts to win the multi-billion dollar contract, stating that parts of the "JEDI" project would not align with their "principles" after more than 3,000 employees protested the idea of Google's technology being utilized for warfare.

Google was provisionally certified in March to handle US government data with "moderate" security, but Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp have higher clearances.

That the Pentagon could trust housing its digital data with Google would have been helpful to its marketing efforts with large companies.

But not every tech giant is standing by the military.

Google decided not to renew its involvement in Maven and this week backed away from the cloud computing contract, citing similar concerns about values.

The contract has not been awarded, but Smith used it as an example of "the kind of work "we are committed to doing".

'We will continue to pursue strategic work to help state, local and federal customers modernize their infrastructure and meet their mission critical requirements'.

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