TECHNOLOGY

Microsoft goes to bat for military work

Microsoft has joined Amazon as commercial technology companies that have publicly touted work with the federal government and the military in particular as a good thing to do even as other market players appear to be pulling back some.

In a company blog post Friday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote the software giant wants “the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their back. They will have access to the best technology that we create.”

As an example, Smith confirmed that Microsoft has bid for the Defense Department’s much-touted, big ticket commercial cloud computing infrastructure contract known as “JEDI." Some analysts see Microsoft as a slight underdog to widely-held favorite Amazon Web Services.

His comments on JEDI come nearly two weeks after an anonymous group of self-labeled Microsoft employees called on the company to not bid on that contract in a Medium blog post.

In the wake of JEDI bids being due to DOD that same day Oct. 12, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also backed his company’s defense work and went as far as to say that “if big tech companies are going to turn their back on the DOD, then this country is going to be in trouble.”

Microsoft has worked with the Defense Department over four decades and is “proud of this relationship,” Smith wrote. Through that relationship, he said Microsoft technology is used “throughout the American military, helping power its front office, field operations, bases, ships, aircraft and training facilities.”

Smith said wrote and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella addressed the issue Thursday in an open question-and-answer session the company holds monthly with employees.

Also in the blog post, Smith attempted to address public conversations over ethical and policy issues that come up with emerging autonomous technologies such as artificial intelligence and others that can be used in warfare.

Google decided earlier this month not to bid on the JEDI contract, citing ethical concerns. The company also opted in June not to renew its “Project Maven” AI contract with DOD after employees started to speak out against that project on worries it was being used for weaponry.

“Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other technologies are raising new and profoundly important issues, including the ability of weapons to act autonomously. 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,” Smith 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.”

And within Microsoft itself, Smith wrote employees are welcome to have different views and the company also will “respect the fact that some employees work in, or may be citizens of, other countries, and they may not want to work on certain projects.”

“As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team – for whatever reason – we want them to know we support talent mobility. Given our size and product diversity, we often have open jobs across the company and we want people to look for the work they want to do, including with help from Microsoft’s (human resources) team,” Smith added.

About the Author

Ross Wilkers is a senior staff writer for Washington Technology. He can be reached at rwilkers@washingtontechnology.com. Follow him on Twitter: @rosswilkers. Also find and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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