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Military-wary tech workers should listen to this Marine

For those that work in the government contracting industry, it’s easy to dismiss employee protests that have occurred at companies such as Google and Microsoft. Groups of workers at those companies and many others like them have objected to company technology being used by the military.

In Google’s case, the company stopped working on Project Maven, which was to improve search algorthims. In Microsoft's case, a group of employees asked that the company not allow the Army to uses its HoloLens augmented reality headset. Microsoft has often reiterated its commitment to the defense market.

A common criticism aimed at these employees is that they are ungrateful and take for granted that U.S. military personnel have fought and died to protect their freedoms.

Though somewhat simplistic, I tend to agree with that argument. But then I read a New York Times column today written by Lucas Kunce, a Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He applauds the employees for raising the question about “how we engage in war and peace.” But he said their objection to their companies’ technologies being used is misplaced.

“Tech workers might not realize that their opposition to the work their companies do on military technology does not change the decision-making of the American leaders who choose to go to war, and therefore is unlikely to prevent any harm caused by war,” he writes.

Kunce argues eloquently and powerfully that the technologies such as artificial intelligence have the power to lessen the killing, especially those of innocent civilian lives.

The stories he tells are heartbreaking, like a Marine firing on a speeding truck because he thought it was suicide bomber. Instead that Marine killed a young girl whose father was rushing her to the hospital. In another incident, a Marine killed a man throwing a shoe because he thought it was an armor piercing grenade.

Kunce’s argument is that it is fine to object to the war and debate the merits of whether we should be there. But the use of technology plays no role in the decision to go to war. Refusing to work with the Defense Department to deliver the best technologies to the warfighter can actually increase the risk of innocent lives being lost, he says.

“When I think about A.I. and weapons development, I don’t imagine Skynet, the Terminator, or some other Hollywood dream of killer robots,” he writes. “I picture the Marines I know patrolling Falluja with a heads-up display like HoloLens, tied to sensors and to an A.I. system that can process data faster and more precisely than humanly possible -- an interface that helps them identify an object as a shoe, or an approaching truck as too light to be laden with explosives.

“We need tools that enhance situational awareness, provide information that overcomes fear and fatigue, and enable fast, effective and precise combat decisions for both commanders and individuals. If tech companies work with the military, then technologies from applications of A.I. to augmented reality would save innocent lives and reduce suffering.”

It’s a powerful argument and one that we should all heed.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Aug 28, 2019 at 11:52 AM

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