Microsoft employees use open letter to urge company not to get involved in JEDI military project

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Last week, Google said that it had concerns about the use of AI in the US Department of Defense's JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) project, and as such it would not be bidding for the contract.

Now Microsoft employees have published an open letter expressing their concerns about JEDI, the secrecy it is shrouded in, and the potential for it to cause harm or human suffering. The letter has a simple message: "Microsoft, don't bid on JEDI".

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The letter -- which is simply "signed by employees of Microsoft" -- says: "We joined Microsoft to create a positive impact on people and society, with the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering. Tuesday's blog post serves as a public declaration of Microsoft's intent to bid on the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract --  a contract that represents a $10 billion project to build cloud services for the Department of Defense. The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building".

The authors of the letter go on to say that they, and many other Microsoft employees do not believe that "what we build should be used for waging war". With the Department of Defense saying of JEDI "this program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department", it is easy to see why there is discontent.

The letter asks that Microsoft take notice of the views of its employees just like Google, Amazon and others took notice of theirs:

Like those who took action at Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, we ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles.

Recently, Google executives made clear that they will not use artificial intelligence "for weapons, illegal surveillance, and technologies that cause overall harm". This was only after thousands of Google workers spoke out in the name of ethics and human rights. On Tuesday, the company withdrew from the JEDI bidding war, since they "couldn't be assured that it would align with [their] AI Principles", principles they put in place in response to sustained employee pressure. With a large number of workers vocally opposed, executives were left with no choice but to pull out of the bid.

It goes on to pose a couple of questions to Microsoft:

So we ask, what are Microsoft's AI Principles, especially regarding the violent application of powerful AI technology? How will workers, who build and maintain these services in the first place, know whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing?

The employees say that Microsoft risks betraying its own principles if it gets involved with JEDI. They ask that the company is not drawn by the allure of short-term profits and instead stands "by its own ethical compass".

The letter concludes by saying:

Hundreds of employees within Microsoft have voiced ethical concerns regarding the company's ongoing contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in which the company provides "mission-critical" Azure cloud computing services that have enabled ICE to enact violence and terror on families at the border and within the United States. Despite our objections, the contract remains in place. Microsoft's decision to pursue JEDI reiterates the need for clear ethical guidelines, accountability, transparency, and oversight.

Microsoft, don't bid on JEDI.

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