Microsoft employees want company to pass on JEDI

Citing ethical concerns, a group identifying itself as "Employees of Microsoft" want the tech giant to forego bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud procurement.

A group identifying itself as "Employees of Microsoft" want the tech giant to forego bids on the Pentagon's $10 billion cloud procurement.

"Many Microsoft employees don't believe that what we build should be used for waging war," the group said in an open letter published Oct. 12 on Medium. The post came as the company itself signaled in a blog post that it was likely to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, a 10-year, single-source deal designed to provide cloud and advanced computing capabilities to the warfighter in the field.

The Microsoft employee group is also seeking a set of "AI principles" modeled on the tenets of artificial intelligence put out by Google under pressure from its employees. Google has committed to not developing weaponized AI, as well as AI applications that conduct surveillance outside of "internationally accepted norms" and whose purpose "contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights."

Google's AI principles were announced not long after the company declined in June 2018 to renew a deal with the Pentagon called "Project Maven" involving the use of AI to review drone video footage.

Google recently announced it would not bid on the JEDI contract because the company said it "couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles" and also because some of the requirements -- mostly likely the secret and top-secret data hosting certification -- were out of scope with Google's current cloud offering.

The opposition from the Microsoft employee group is just the latest episode in an ongoing ethical crisis in the U.S. technology industry. The concept of lethal AI, in which software programs make decisions about aiming and deploying weapons, is just one area where tech workers are trying to influence corporate behavior and ethics.

Hundreds of developers and tech employees worldwide have signed a pledge not to work on lethal autonomous weapons. The signatories agree that developers "should not allow machines to make life-taking decisions for which others -- or nobody -- will be culpable." Additionally, the pledge states, "the international community lacks the technical tools and global governance systems to manage" an arms race over lethal, autonomous weapons.

The deadline to submit bid proposals to the Department of Defense in response to the JEDI cloud solicitation was Oct. 12. Amazon is seen as the likely frontrunner, because of its experience providing secret and top-secret hosting to the intelligence community. IBM said it is planning a bid, but is also filing a pre-award protest, citing competition issues. Oracle is also protesting the deal.

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