A letter purporting to be from a group of Microsoft employees has hit out against the company's plans to bid for the US Department of Defense's JEDI cloud contract.
Echoing similar efforts at Google, the employees published an open letter declaring that Microsoft should not be involved in the business of war.
The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud is a single-award government contract that will see almost all of the Department of Defense's cloud computing needs fulfilled by just one vendor, for up to 10 years, in exchange for as much as $10bn.
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"Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war. 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," the letter published on Medium stated.
"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. A race to the bottom is not an ethical position. 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."
A similar stance among Google employees - with thousands signing a petition against working for the DoD, and dozens quitting in protest - caused the company to release a set of 'AI Principles' that attempted to specify just how far the company would go in working with the military. Citing those principles (and the fact that Google Cloud lacked the necessary certifications to compete), Google last week pulled out of the running for the JEDI cloud contract.
"We need to put JEDI in perspective. This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building “a more lethal” military force overseen by the Trump Administration. The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too," the letter continued.
"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?"
Earlier this year, Microsoft's chief legal officer, Brad Smith, and head of its AI and research group, Harry Shum, published The Future Computed, a book detailing Microsoft's view on AI and society. In it, they defined six core principles to how the company approaches AI, claiming it should be: “fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable.”
"With JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits," the letter stated. It suggested that the company has already betrayed its principles with an 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."
The deadline for the JEDI bids ended last Friday, October 12th, with Microsoft announcing it had secured many of the necessary certifications just days before. The award decision will be headed by Chris Lynch, the director of the Defense Digital Service, who previously spent two years working at Microsoft (albeit from 1998 to 2000).
Microsoft employees are not alone in their dislike of JEDI; IBM, too, has voiced displeasure, but for a different reason.
The company published an open letter criticizing JEDI last week, claiming that it was a bad idea for the cloud contract to be a single award lasting up to 10 years. The company also filed a protest with the US Government Accountability Office.
"IBM knows what it takes to build a world-class cloud. No business in the world would build a cloud the way JEDI would and then lock in to it for a decade. JEDI turns its back on the preferences of Congress and the administration, is a bad use of taxpayer dollars and was written with just one company in mind. America’s warfighters deserve better," Sam Gordy, general manager of IBM US Federal, said.
The 'one company' is likely Amazon Web Services, which has long been seen as the presumptive winner - with some going as far as to claim that certain stipulations in the JEDI contract appear to be designed to fit AWS. Gordy concurred: "Throughout the year-long JEDI saga, countless concerns have been raised that this solicitation is aimed at a specific vendor. At no point have steps been taken to alleviate those concerns."
IBM was clear to note that its employees had no problems with serving the US military. "IBM has proudly supported America’s armed services for decades, and we plan to submit a bid that provides our warfighters as much flexibility and innovation as possible within the scope of the JEDI solicitation.
"It is our hope, though, that highlighting our serious concerns through this protest might create one last opportunity for this process to be aligned with commercial best practices, the desires of Congress and the Trump administration, and the best interests of our men and women in uniform – not to mention taxpayers, who will foot the bill."