Microsoft, Amazon stand by military work, despite employee backlash

Officials at Microsoft, Amazon and Oracle this week maintained their decisions to work with the U.S. military, despite backlash from employees who have expressed concern that technology,such as artificial intelligence, could be weaponized by the Pentagon to kill people.

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In a blog post published on Friday, Microsoft President Brad Smith defended the company’s decision to continue supplying digital technology to the military. Although he addressed concerns about the ethics of working with the military, Smith argued that Microsoft will advocate for policies and laws that govern the use of AI and other new technologies “responsibly and ethically.” The company, he said, is already working with experts to help it do so.

“As we have discussed these issues with governments, we’ve appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war,” he wrote. “But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation.”

Microsoft isn’t the only tech giant to forge ahead with military contracts, regardless of the controversies they evoke. During an interview with FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison lambasted technology companies for working with the Chinese government but not the American government.

“U.S. tech companies who say, ‘We will not support the U.S. Military, we will not work on any technology that helps our military,’ but yet goes into China and facilitates the Chinese government surveilling their people is pretty shocking,” he said. “I think it’s very important that U.S. technology companies support our country, our government.”

(Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft who stepped down in 2014, said on Thursday during an interview with FOX Business' Maria Bartiromo that he disagrees with Ellison's premise. "Most of Microsoft software, when I left, was stolen. And you say, 'Okay, is it possible to steal the software without even stealing it in China?' The answer is yes.")

And while speaking at a conference in San Francisco last week, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos defended contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense amid a wave of furor and dissent from employees, some of whom have threatened to quit.

“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” he said, according to Wired. “We are going to continue to support the Department of Defense, and I think we should.”

But not every tech giant is standing by the military. In early October, Google announced that it would not bid for a lucrative cloud contract with the Pentagon over fears the job does not align with the company’s principles on artificial intelligence.

“While we are working to support the U.S. government with our cloud in many areas, we are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications,” a spokesperson for the company said in a statement.

Google could not be reached for comment on Saturday.

This post has been updated.