Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella defends controversial $480M HoloLens-U.S. Army contract


Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the company’s 2018 Shareholder Meeting. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella defended a $480 million contract to outfit the U.S. Army with 100,000 HoloLens headsets that has drawn opposition from a group of employees who don’t want to see the technology weaponized.

“We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” Nadella said in an interview with CNN at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona, where Microsoft yesterday introduced a second-generation HoloLens “mixed reality” headset.

Late last week, a group of employees issued an open letter to Nadella and Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, calling on the company to drop the contract. The group says it represents “a global coalition of Microsoft workers” who don’t want to see the teams that built HoloLens become “implicated as war profiteers.” The group wrote that the company needs to do a better job informing engineers about what their work will be used for.

“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” the employees wrote in the letter. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”

Nadella told CNN Microsoft has been transparent about its decision to pursue the contract, and the company will continue to talk openly with employees about it.

The HoloLens deal comes as Microsoft has faced internal pushback on some of its other government work. Microsoft is in the running for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract. Smith authored a blog post last October defending its pursuit of the contract, claiming that technologists should be involved in government adoption of new innovations to ensure they are not misused.

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