Microsoft intends to continue to work with the U.S. military, president Brad Smith said today.
New technology like artificial intelligence and autonomous weaponry are raising ethical and legal challenges, Smith acknowledged, and he said no tech company has been more active than Microsoft in addressing legal and public policy issues.
Smith spoke via a blog post today after a meeting with Microsoft employees Thursday, and follows a push by Smith to demand the federal government regulate the use of facial recognition software.
“All of us who live in this country depend on its strong defense. The people who serve in our military work for an institution with a vital role and critical history,” he said. “We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs. They will have access to the best technology that we create.”
Employees who don’t want to support military initiatives can transfer to another division within the company, he added.
“We don’t ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes. We also 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.”
Though the blog post acknowledges that AI presents challenges and nobody wants to wake up to find out that a machine has started a war, specifically unaddressed in the blog post is whether Microsoft will support the creation of autonomous weaponry.
Instead, Smith said, “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.”
A withdrawal from providing support for the U.S. military denies support to people who defend the United States, Smith said, and reduces opportunity for public debate about how to responsibly use new technology.
“We are not going to withdraw from the future,” he said.
Smith’s statements follow news that Google announced earlier this month that it would not bid on Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative (JEDI), a $10 billion Department of Defense contract.
Microsoft and Amazon continue to bid for the JEDI contract.
After it was discovered earlier this year that Google was part of Project Maven, CEO Sundar Pichai issued an AI code of ethics that stipulates its technology cannot be used for the creation of autonomous weaponry.
Earlier this month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos vehemently defended his company’s desire to work with the military earlier this month with Wired editor at large Steven Levy.
“If big tech companies are going to turn their back on U.S. Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble,” Bezos said.
Both Amazon and Microsoft have faced criticism and protest from their own employees for working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a part of the Department of Homeland Security.