Microsoft employees have banded together and called on executives to withdraw a proposed bid for a controversial US military program.
The project, dubbed JEDI, is a US$10bn winner-takes-all contract that will leverage artificial intelligence in warfare.
“The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building,” Microsoft employees wrote in an open letter.
The new technology is aimed at “increasing the lethality” of the US Department of Defense, said DoD Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II.
Microsoft has long been a proponent of ethical AI, with the goal of developing technology that is “fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable”.
JEDI would “betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits,” the employees said.
“When we decided to work at Microsoft, we were doing so in the hopes of ‘empowering every person on the planet to achieve more,’ not with the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality,” they said.
“For those who say that another company will simply pick up JEDI where Microsoft leaves it, we would ask workers at that company to do the same.”
This “race to the bottom” will not advance the ethical use of AI, they warned: “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.”
Other tech companies that have submitted proposals for JEDI include Amazon, the purported frontrunner to win the deal, as well as IBM and Oracle, both of which are now criticising the bidding process for allegedly favouring Amazon.