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Employees To Microsoft: Don't Bid On JEDI

An open letter from workers urges the cloud giant to abstain from pursuit of the massive military contract because they say it appears artificial intelligence will be used for lethal purposes.

An open letter signed last Friday by "employees of Microsoft" asks the cloud giant to abstain from bidding on the military's massive JEDI cloud computing contract for ethical reasons involving the application of artificial intelligence.

"Microsoft, don’t bid on JEDI," concludes the missive, posted on Medium.

Those Microsoft employees cite a statement last week from Julia White, corporate vice president for Microssoft Azure, that made clear the industry's second largest cloud provider is aggressively pursuing the $10 billion contract that has been a magnet of controversy.

[Related: Pentagon Unleashes $10B JEDI Cloud RFP With Single Award In Mind]

"The contract is massive in scope and shrouded in secrecy, which makes it nearly impossible to know what we as workers would be building," the employees said.

They referenced Department of Defense Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II telling attendees of an industry event: "We need to be very clear. This program is truly about increasing the lethality of our department."

"Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war," the letter said.

A Microsoft spokesperson told CRN: “Microsoft submitted its bid on the JEDI contract on the October 12 deadline. While we don’t have a way to verify the authenticity of this letter, we always encourage employees to share their views with us.”

The Microsoft employees argue their company should adhere to its own recent publication, The Future Computed, that laid out ethical guidelines for building artificial intelligence. The JEDI program, in accordance with that document, should be subject to a review from a special AI ethics committee within Microsoft.

Instead, "with JEDI, Microsoft executives are on track to betray these principles in exchange for short-term profits."

The Microsoft employees advocate an approach similar to that of Google—the third-largest cloud provider pulled out of JEDI contestation last week saying it wasn't sure the technology delivered for JEDI "would align with our AI principles."

In an unusual display of cross-cloud solidarity, Microsoft employees cited their competitor's decision.

"We need to put JEDI in perspective. This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building 'a more lethal' military force overseen by the Trump administration. The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too."

The protest comes after Microsoft upgraded several Azure Cloud services to meet the stringent requirements of the federal government just days before final submissions were due at the end of last week.

While Google dropped out of the JEDI process, and Oracle and IBM have lodged protests arguing requirements look engineered to deliver the award to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft believes it remains a strong contender.

Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., cites a 40-year relationship with the Department of Defense and solutions differentiated by hybrid and edge computing capabilities as the reason it "best supports the DoD in advancing its mission and accelerating the speed in which they can achieve return on their cloud investments," White said last week in a blog post.

She elaborated in an email to CRN that read: "We look forward to competing for the JEDI cloud contract and continuing to provide the DoD with our latest commercial innovations."

The Microsoft employees asked their colleagues from other cloud providers to consider taking a similar stance at their respective companies.

"Like those who took action at Google, Salesforce, and Amazon, we ask all employees of tech companies to ask how your work will be used, where it will be applied, and act according to your principles," the letter said.

When they took jobs at Microsoft, they never expected their work to have "the intent of ending lives and enhancing lethality," they said.

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