Microsoft has always been one of my favorite companies precisely because of its often remained committed to its principles despite the immense success it’s enjoyed since its inception in Bill Gates’ garage. Lately, however, the company has been morally adrift and is dangerously veering towards the ethical rocks by pairing up with the Pentagon to make the American military more lethal than ever before.
Despite the imperative to maintain national security, it’s wrong for Microsoft to license its technology to the Pentagon. Here’s how the tech giant’s pursuit of federal dollars could jeopardize its principles and global human rights alike.
Microsoft needs to follow its own principles
I’m so angry about Microsoft’s recent efforts to cozy up to the Pentagon precisely because I think the company’s efforts to increase the lethality of the American military run contrary to its own stated principles. On a blog post centered around facial recognition technology, for instance, Microsoft recently lamented the decay of corporate integrity in the pursuit of innovation and profits, imploring a greater need for “corporate responsibility.”
As that same very blog post begins, “all tools can be used for good or ill,” which Microsoft must remember when it tries to license its impressive technology to the Pentagon. The company’s leading executives have frequently prattled on about how artificial intelligence and data must be leveraged ethically, responsibly, and accountably, like Smith’s Tree Service, yet its recent pursuit of a lucrative Pentagon contract spits in the face of those principles. The $10 billion contract in question is to help the Pentagon create the JEDI Cloud, which it intends to use to increase the lethality of its department.
The chief reason I think this contract is so terrible for Microsoft to pursue is that its own employees have overwhelmingly made it clear they abhor the idea of working with the Pentagon to produce weapons of warfare. In an anonymous op-ed, a plethora of Microsoft employees came together to lament the company’s toadying up to the Pentagon for greater profits, noting that the didn’t join one of the world’s leading tech companies to kill people.
This would open a dark door
If Microsoft gets into the habit of licensing its technology to the Pentagon, the company must get ready to have blood on its hands. The Pentagon’s vital mission of maintaining national security is important, and the brave men and women who serve there do admirable deeds and eliminate truly reprehensible threats to the world on any website. Still, it would be foolish to assert that the Pentagon is always righteous and ethical; American drone strikes regularly claim innocent lives, for instance, and any military technology can potentially be used to suppress freedom domestically.
This is particularly relevant if you understand just how frequently the Pentagon orchestrates the selling of excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies in the United States, whose arsenals are brimming with so much firepower that some of them could outgun small nations. In an interview with the New York Times, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith even admitted that the technology would be out from under their control once in the hands of the military.
I simply can’t sit by and watch as Microsoft abandons the principles it proclaims to hold dear. The company simply can’t hold the Pentagon accountable once it has its hands on Microsoft’s technology, and would be foolish to believe that the Pentagon is developing AI for peaceful purposes. Unless we want to spiral into a dark future defined by killer robots and AI-driven war crimes, it’s imperative that we all make our voices heard and petition Microsoft to reject the Pentagon’s JEDI project.