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Microsoft Workers Demand It Drop $450M U.S. Army Contract (reuters.com)
227 points by petethomas 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 290 comments



Far be it from me to fall into the "everything I don't like is a Russian/Chinese covert action" conspiracy theorizing that is increasingly common these days -- but if I were an adversarial state actor, I would definitely look into ways of encouraging these sorts of anti-US-military "employee rebellions" in the tech industry. Geopolitics never rests, and an important asset of any nation is its tech industry, both during wartime itself and also in any long-term leadup to conflict. I wonder if the US government has internally analyzed the question of whether, in an increasingly globalized and politically agitating environment, its companies can be counted on to be supportive and/or loyal in the event of conflict.


As someone who neither resides in the US (or its supposedly adversary countries), nor works at BigTech, I don't think I have any bias here except I hope humanity doesn't end up obliterating itself with nukes.

But your comment is, at best, a fraction of the full picture.

1 No country has ever been as ready to "spread democracy via force" as the US

2 No country has borrowed as much money to run its spendthrift military budget to carry out #1. You combine #1 and #2, and the money lenders are wondering, "Wait, WTF are you doing with all my money?"

3 No country has a tech sector with tentacles that spread as far. That's all fine (for the other countries) if you happen to be, say, neutral and generally non-aggressive Switzerland, but not so if you are a bonafide empire and keep trying to continue being an empire.

4 No country has so many immigrants working in their tech sector. Some of these immigrants are probably wondering "Wait, so I am developing weapons so people I don't know are going to bomb and kill people I actually know?"

5 Last, and certainly not least, "The first casualty of war is truth". A nerd is a nerd because he/she probably knows this very deep in their psyche somewhere. So this nerd ends up in a massive state of cognitive dissonance when asked to develop weapons of war. Its like telling them "Yeah, we won't actually tell you what we might use it for. And you have to just believe any spin we put on the whole issue. Not to mention, we might end up attacking your kith and kin. But its all OK, because WE are the country of DEMOCRACY and FREEDOM".

>> its companies can be counted on to be supportive and/or loyal in the event of conflict.

That's probably a smaller question, as seen by a neutral. A bigger question at this point is, can the USA, which managed to elect Donald Trump, by counted on to be a stable and reliable superpower or should all the other countries already start taking an "every country for itself approach", which is what I think is happening?


no offense, but it doesn't sound like your opinion is very neutral.

I would agree that the USA has it's faults, but unfortunately so do the other superpowers, and just about every other country out there (except those nordics maybe?)

Not that saying "everyone has problems" is meant to dismiss your arguments, rather you should consider if at least some of your list are actually problems of the USA or symptoms of global inequality, or even perhaps beneficial aspects of the USA.

Specific rebuttals:

#1: yes, but that ended in the 80's. Iraq or after isn't about democracy. The causes of USA's direct military intervention is complicated. Simplifying to "spread of democracy" is just about the definition of biased, though I agree the interventions are mostly not justified.

#2: yes but the USA is the police for it's allies neighborhoods, for various, complicated, reasons. Projection of power isn't cheap, and it's not just to burn money.

#3: USA's culture and economic impact are global, and it's spread is organic. I would personally call this net benefit, so curious why you feel it's nefarious.

#4: Why focus on immigrants/usa? This is story of anybody working for any big company anywhere?

#5: it seems like you have a lot of strong feelings going on here....


English is not my first language and maybe I misunderstood you. But #3 is net positive only for USA. Of course, if you live in USA and watch and read only us media, it's self assuring to believe "we do it for greater good". But it's not.


I think you could argue that cultural domination is bad. I was mostly thinking of technological and scientific improvements that came out of the USA: from nuclear to gps to smartphones.


> No country has so many immigrants working in their tech sector.

Usually the kind of tech+military work that actually gets people bombed and killed is reserved for US citizens with security clearance.

Unless you're implying that, like, deploying Office is equivalent to developing killer drone tech.


So much software is dual purpose, though. "We need this moving object recognition for, uh, cars. So it knows where a moving person is, so it can avoid them."

"Yes, that's a thing we're totally doing. Cars."


This. Companies and academia too.

This has been a huge part of academic investment by government too. Yes we'll sponsor your PHD in this area because (often without the academics direct knowledge) we have a need in a certain area and we think this might help.

That might be signal reflection calculation (like more precise GPS in a place with tall buildings).

It might be a new kind of harder material (carbon nanotubes/ graphene).

Or perhaps it's a better understanding of a drug / mental health / the mind that has a side-effect of having nefarious applications as well as helpful ones being considered.

Even if the result is that it doesn't work, the armed forces and clandestine services are very interested in the outcomes of research that might fix a piece of their puzzle.


It would get a lot of people in management sent to prison to do something like that.


The USP of USA is that it promotes your self-actualization in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_need...


Even further be it from me to fall in to the "everything I don't like and some things I do are a deep state conspiracy," but if I was a covert US agent that wasn't happy to see people turn against helping their government, I would seriously consider stirring up suspicions of foreign influence on public demonstrations. After all, you know, labor strikes are organized by communists.


Personally I suspect the roor cause is loss of moral authority in the United States military and assiciated apparatuses. Between the expense for no "good results, torture, spying on its citizens, going unpunished for no good end people lost faith and are finding supporting it less acceptable. A reputation is built upon being judged for their past actions.

It can be healed from but it takes time. Previously soldiers had a worse reputation with Mai Lai and Kent State. Now if someone is heckled as a baby killer the assumption is they are an abortion doctor and not a soldier.


Preventions of labor strikes are organized by bosses and public servants.


The argument that The United States’ involvements in World War II were so impactful and influential was only possible because of the faith of it’s citizens negotiated by Eisenhower’s New Deal is not new. And an interesting angle of it involves the position that, even if you conclude the US did not actually exhibit expertise, the fact remains that it’s reputation took the credit anyhow. Any of the above would demand a sovereign citizenry.


Eisenhower’s New Deal?


I'm happy they're reaping what they've sown. Company culture. Reason in reasonable.

I hope they drop either the contract, or the workers and their ilk.


It begs the question: are you personally responsible if the code you’ve written has led to the loss of life? Many would seem to think so. Either you accept you have blood on your hands, or you don’t engage in business with an outfit like the US military. Can’t have it both ways.


US Military uses Linux all over the place.

Lot of people have blood on their hands under your model.


Meanwhile, China and Russia don't give a crap. It's nice to dream of a utopia where weapons of death and destruction aren't necessary, but we don't live in that world. We, the West, have real enemies with real weapons and plenty of money going into R&D and military spending and qualms about killing people if necessary isn't stopping them.


This is the key reason why the United States is the financial power of the world that it is.

It isn't so much about our freedoms or our GDP, although they play a role.

Unlike China and Russia, we have WAY more guns and we're WAY less corrupt. That's a pinnacle of financial security; you can be confident that the United States will honor its treasury securities. China and Russia? Probably, except who knows what internal or external conflicts shake their fragile economies, and maybe they just won't pay out on time or at all.

People hate the fact that we spend so much on our military, but the inconvenient truth is that we have the comfortable lives we have now in large part because we have so many god damned weapons, and very advanced ones at that. That goes for those who live in foreign ally nations; deep down, their leaders know we will intervene on their behalf if shit hits the fan. America has had its share of fuckups, but they're still not eclipsed by the fuckups of Russia or China.


> we have the comfortable lives we have now

"We" = the 1% which reads Hacker News? Speak only for yourself

You uses fallacies to spread misinformation about war. No source, no number, no reference. Convenient.


> "We" = the 1% which reads Hacker News? Speak only for yourself

No, actually "we" as in most Americans and many other countries in multiple senses of "comfortable". Yes, there is poverty and many social problems present in America. At the same time, many aspects of the average American life, as well as life in Europe and other parts of the world, have consistently improved, and millions of people still choose to live in America instead of even other places of comparable rights and opportunities. Contrasted with many parts of the world, we're pretty damned comfortable.

But you know what? That doesn't even matter. If I were to alter my premise to only encompass the "1% which reads Hacker News", it wouldn't affect my comment at all. Why do you think Silicon Valley continues to exist in America and not the UK?

Fallacies are specific, and you haven't mentioned what "fallacies" I've made. What I wrote was a comment on an industry forum, not an academic paper. You want citations? Work it out yourself. You're on the internet. Nothing that I wrote hasn't been said before by others with greater authority than mine.

You haven't made a single argument, yet you accuse me of using fallacies and misinformation. By not justifying your claims, you're being very unfair.


“Way less corrupt”

Just because an internet search puts America as less corrupt than the likes of China and Russia. Doesn’t mean it’s actually less corrupt.

The perseption of America is that it’s less corrupt but in reality we have absolute no idea what’s going on behind closed doors and what deals are being done.


I have a different perspective after moving from America to a developing country. Where I live now corruption is commonplace and everyone knows it. But it is relatively petty in most cases and costs everyone a little. But America is rife with what I call legalized corruption. Laws passed to enrich government cronies. Excessive licensing requirements to eliminate competition and enrich encumbants. The list goes on. And it costs everyone much, much more.


Well, for starters, try bribing a police officer in USA vs. Russia over a speeding ticket and see how far it gets you. My money is on you going to jail in USA and getting off scot free in Russia.


Well, there's certainly less low-level corruption.


Less high level corruption, too. Jeff Bezos probably worries about a lot of things but I highly doubt that he worries Trump will throw him in jail and seize all his assets. Now if Bezos were in Russia? Putin would do it in a heartbeat [1]. There's no way you would get away with criticizing Putin the way WaPo does with Trump.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_Khodorkovsky


how can one imagine at a higher level, it will just magically get better then?


This is not the discussed point.


AKA pervasive corruption. See, also, Vietnam.


Do we really know that we will intervene for our allies with the current “America First” rants and threatening to leave NATO?


Honest question: we are almost 30 years away from the fall of the Soviet Union, which NATO was founded to defend against.

What specific things in terms of Defense is America responsible for on the European continent?


My basic understanding of NATO is that it says:

- If any NATO country is invaded by anyone, all NATO countries will go to war to defend it. This doesn't apply if the NATO country is the aggressor.

- It outlines some minimum funding commitments, but those are more aimed towards the non-US countries involved.


I think the main thing is still to deter Russia from literally invading member countries. It's hard to call that far-fetched in light of Russia literally invading Ukraine and, before that, Georgia.


That doesn’t answer the question.

Why should we draft a bunch of folks from South Dakota and Kansas (and let’s be honest here ... folks from New York or SF who write opinion pieces about this aren’t going to be the ones paying blood) to fight Russia? Why can’t these countries defend themselves?


Who is being drafted? It's a volunteer army and we are in basically no wars where our soldiers are at serious risk of wartime death. It's far more common for NATO troops to die helping us in our wars than vice versa.

NATO is a low cost way for us to maintain our geopolitical position as a leader and to maintain a reliable group of military allies in case we need them (yeah, we spend a ton on military, but that is not due to us defending NATO countries from Russia).


A war with Russia would require a draft. It’s ridiculous to think otherwise. Everyone is being evasive and not answering the question, which is: why should a guy from the Midwest die to defend Eastern Europe?

Your point about spending is ignorant and silly. We don’t buy billion dollar submarines to fight Islamists in land locked countries.


That's a meaningless hypothetical. No Americans are dying to defend Eastern Europe. History shows us that treaties are easily discarded in the face of actual war with another great power. But the value of NATO for the US right now is not hypothetical.

You don't buy billion dollar submarines because of NATO either. When the DoD talks about preparing for near-peer adversaries, Russia is not the primary concern. Do you really think we would stop spending massive amounts of money on military technology development if NATO didn't exist?


>When the DoD talks about preparing for near-peer adversaries, Russia is not the primary concern.

Are you kidding? Then what's Grafenwöhr for? Entire procurement strategies have been - and are - focused on countering Russian military hardware (the IAV is just one example - there are plenty of others).

>Do you really think we would stop spending massive amounts of money on military technology development if NATO didn't exist?

You should really reconsider that statement, and which clause follows from the other. This has nothing to do with my first point, which no one seems interested in answering. My original question was attempting to tease out why people think NATO is useful in a post-post Cold War world. I don't think it is, and struggle to understand this obsession with Russia that continues to warp people's perception of the global security situation. Instead people pivot to "well it was actually about reducing the amount of nuclear weapons" or "we would spend that money anyway", neither of which address the fundamental question of whether or not NATO in its present form is useful or whether the US should have to continue shouldering the vast majority of the security responsibility in the Western World.


Near-peer is essentially {Russia, China}. New funding is generally "counter the rise of China", especially in maritime spending, but land force "reset from the counterinsurgency back to fighting a near-peer adversary" is basically Russia.


Because defending themselves would necessarily require acquiring their own nuclear deterrent, and the US correctly realized that a world where every country had nukes was a world where they'd eventually be used. Alliances like NATO reduced the risk of human extinction while pulling countries closer into the US orbit. It's ridiculous to look at that from an ROI perspective; the ROI is not dying in a nuclear war.


I think you need to reevaluate your understanding of Cold War history if the argument you're making is "we started NATO to reduce the proliferation of nuclear weapons".


Would your argument hold equally for US intervention in Europe in world war 2?


Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. That wasn't a US "intervention".


Trump is just (somewhat justifiably) trying to get Europe to step up to the plate and not leave everything to the US. Remember that we fixed their Yugoslavia ethnic cleansing problem while they twiddled their thumbs waiting for diplomacy to work. When the shit hits the fan the US will participate, if only to keep the MIC chugging along.


I think one of main things keeping Europe more or less stable, is that Russia's armed forces are probably more broke-dick than the EU's.


I hope MS doesn't succumb to this kind of activism, but to put in perspective, this doesn't even deserve an article, from the first parr:

>Several Microsoft Corp employees on Friday demanded that the company cancel …

Three employees. Since when do three employees make these kinds of demands and have management take heed? This isn't some Morton Thiokol and an O-ring issue where you need management to listen to a real issue.

If I were Russia or China, this is exactly the kind of agitprop I'd like to create for a foe.


Three employees were the representatives leading the effort. The petition was signed by far more MS employees.


How many more? How many Googlers signed the anti-Maven petition? Something on the order of 1% of the workforce, maybe less?


Also, it's not like Palantir won't pick up the project if they drop it.

Also, LOL if they think Microsoft is going to drop $450M in revenue -- even if was hand-delivered by Satan himself.


Palantir is not in the market of augmented reality headsets.



They can get in the market for $450M...


The US has done fine until now, in fact much better than China or Russia defending itself without getting into the business of blurring the line between private business and military to the degree that autocratic states do.

So honestly I find these sorts of responses misleading, irresponsible and agenda driven. The US does not need to be afraid of China or Russia, it dwarfs their military capacity ten times over.

And that American workers in the tech industry are conscious of the risks of having the military seep too closely into consumer facing businesses is a very good thing in a liberal society. US tech workers always had a libertarian streak, be that right or left, and the US wasn't defenseless as a result. We'd be very wise to listen to the people who want to keep private American businesses out of government weapon development.


We’d be very wise to listen to the people who want to keep private American businesses out of government weapon development.

How is it wise? Most weapons are developed and manufactured in a kind of public-private partnership.

During the Second World War, for example, the vast majority of industrial capacity turned towards building war equipment was private, dwarfing the capacity of government arsenals by a fair margin. Much of the design and development occurred in the context of public-private partnership, with national proving grounds and military agencies collaborating with aircraft manufacturers and other manufacturers of heavy equipment to design and develop weapons systems.

Boeing, Lockheed, Texas Instruments, Browning — and to go further afield, Supermarine, Marconi, Glock — these are all private names, not the names of government agencies. There are few cases of states where all, or even most, development of weapons systems is in state hands: totalitarian states.


Yes, but Lockheed has the label on the door. You know that you're going to be building defense technology that is used in (foreign!) wars. Building technology that can just as well used at home at a company that faces consumers and puts funny colored letters on the door is very different.

When Amazon develops facial recognition technology that can just as easily be thrown at migrants at the border the line isn't as easy as talking about building aircraft to fight fascism in Europe.

In liberal democracies there's a line between civilian technology and military technology, and you generally know what you sign up for. This is also precisely what the engineers here talk about, they did not join Microsoft to build weapons.


In liberal democracies there's a line between civilian technology and military technology...

This isn't true. Consider Boeing, Colt, Texas Instruments, CamelBak, AM General. Even companies, like Colt, that are dedicated to making arms also sell products into the civilian market. That is in part because in a liberal democracy the government can not restrict a company to doing business solely with them: companies are allowed to recycle their know-how in the civilian market.

Working with private enterprise and repurposing civilian capabilities is how liberal democracies do defence. Should it be otherwise? It would seem to imply even greater scope for secrecy and mismanagement, and even less civilian control and input, if defence agencies didn't work with private enterprises for most of their needs.


I’m not seeing how Glock fits here? They are an Austrian company founded in 1963


Like Supermarine (British) & Marconi (Italian), Glock is a private company. Most weapon systems in liberal democracies are manufactured by private companies which also sell goods and services in the civilian market.


Just because the US has better tech now doesn't mean the US can sit back and think "ah, well, they'll never catch up, let's just stop with the technological progress". That's entirely unrealistic. 30 years ago, China was a country of poor farmers. They're now an economic superpower that is increasingly sinking tons of money into their military and research.

I'm not sure you realize how much of our modern technology is thanks to defense technology grants and DARPA. Military, academia and private business have always been tightly coupled in the US and it's dishonest to pretend otherwise. Microsoft has always had plenty of defense contracts, hell , they have the largest or second largest R&D division in the world. These moral qualms are entirely new.


I don't think they're entirely new, but consider that the average tech employee is in their late 20s or early 30s and the only major exercises of US military power they've seen were in Afghanistan and Iraq. The US has squandered its goodwill among that group by engaging in wars of aggression that were only marginally necessary. They didn't experience the cold war when the threat of nuclear annihilation was hovering over everyone (until very recently; it seems to be returning). Couple that with the highly employee favored labor market dynamics in tech and it's not surprising people don't want to take military applications up.

Also, it has to be said: it's a verdict on US leadership. The man in the oval office isn't someone I'd feel comfortable arming, nor was Bush. Even Obama had the thing with the drone strikes. When US Presidents demonstrate carelessness and unpredictability in their use of force, it turns reasonable, peace-loving people off.


That unraveling of goodwill began much earlier, with Vietnam, imo.


"it dwarfs their military capacity ten times over" ... as measured per spending, right? How do we account for spending efficiency? How much more does the U.S. pay for the same thing?


Yep, and China's authoritarian outlook and lack of privacy concerns might allow them to win a future AI race, because there's no western concept of rights. Sweep up as much data as you want and throw it into models. Track every citizen, every click, every purchase.

The US may fall behind simply because we believe in ideas like privacy.

Kai-Fu Lee's book goes into this in detail.

Although if we're being realistic, less scrupulous companies such as Amazon will step in and take the contracts.


Or they may fall on their face, like every other attempt at central planning has.

The economy is basically a distributed optimization heuristic.

If you're talking about "falling behind" in the global sense (using "AI" to centrally plan), then you're hypothesizing that we can essentially port the distributed algorithm into the silicon realm and further optimize it (eg prune destructive adversarial behavior). We certainly have more computing power now than say that past attempt based on fluid flows, but that's still a huge if.

If you're talking in the local sense (that "AI" will help companies themselves optimize better), than whatever extra percentage gained from that will not be enough to outrun the State deploying the same technology (as in the above goal), and destroying the individual businesses.

One thing I do know is that even if this turns out to be the winning strategy, sacrificing our values in an attempt to compete at it will still only net us second place!

--

Having written that, I think this implicit assumption that it will be economically beneficial for AI to be directed at individuals and individual behavior needs to be directly examined. How much individual productivity is actually being left on the table? The US system is quite good at motivating people, so much so that it's common for lower classes to see themselves as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". There are a few deviants, but for the most part lack of individual productivity is a failing of the larger structure. Heck, most of the US's criminals are in jail for engaging in economic activity!

Rather, the narrative seems like the age-old keep-the-plebs-in-line play, not a legitimate approach to economic success. If AI has something to offer for planning the economy, then wouldn't that be properly applied to the government-company interface? That's where the structural gains are actually available to be had!


> Or they may fall on their face, like every other attempt at central planning has.

China isn't centrally planned anymore, and hasn't been for a long time.


Yes, and perhaps they'll even continue on that path if it is really an attractor.

But there are two motte-and-bailey terms in the above comment - "ahead" and "AI".

If we're only talking about the narrow scope of China being ahead in AI, with "AI" meaning predicting outliers from large populations, then that is not so worrisome! Google (et al) can simply buy the better population surveillance technology from China and apply it to their own business, as the US will still be generally ahead.

But rather such talk seems to be aimed at invoking a worry that a lack of individual rights means China will succeed at a more generally useful "AI" (whatever that means), and that it will then be applied to their economy to get them "ahead" in general. This is the underlying idea I am addressing.


Well luckily there are people who do seek peace and diplomacy, because if everyone treated the world like a giant prisoner's dilemma then we'd all be fucked.


We have plenty of diplomacy. But diplomacy only goes so far. Military exists because diplomacy doesn't always work and there are plenty of reasons why it might not work.


Yes. But there is a very real difference in escalation as a last resort and as the default.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is about operating with zero knowledge from and coordination with the other parties. Diplomacy lets us avoid that in the real world.


Aren't you just hoping that people who seek peace and diplomacy are on the Chinese/Russian/etc side when shit hits the fan?

What if they aren't? You can have all the peacekeepers and diplomats in the world, but if the other side isn't willing to play by that game, then they wont.


They're strongly incentivized to play by the game when the alternative is annihilation. For 70 or so years, that kept everyone safe.


The optimal strategy for iterated prisoner's dilemma is tit for tat.


We all know that someone else's bad behavior is not a justification for our own bad behavior. At least I assumed we did.

Our duty is to find better ways, not bullshit excuses to indulge in the old, horrific ways.


So tell me what better way there is to defend yourself when somebody is throwing an army at you.


drum circle? /s


Some people seem hellbent on self-destruction. As an Asian person I find it completely impossible to comprehend. I can’t even understand where these people are coming from. Obviously you need the best weapons. Your enemies have weapons, and if they thought they could get away with it, they’d totally use them to dominate you. The only reason they don’t is because for the moment your weapons are bigger than theirs.

U.S. prosperity is built on the U.S. military. From our acension to the world stage after WWII, to the spawning of the Internet through military R&D. The pointy end of America is an essential part of what makes your life so fat and comfortable. It’s what allows you to consume a vastly disproportionate share of global resources. To live a life where you can worry about finding dates in Tindr and finding the best avacodo toast place, instead of surviving in a hostile world.


The neat thing about nuclear weapons is that if you only care about self defense, you don’t need anything else.


Is a person’s way of life and economic prosperity also worth defending? If so, nuclear weapons are not sufficient. All another country needs to do is cut that person’s country off from the rest of the world. Bring it down from the inside. No invasion or war required.


> The neat thing about nuclear weapons is that if you only care about self defense, you don’t need anything else.

Nuclear weapons have no proportionality, so it's bad to rely on them for defense. If you do rely on them, you're either going to start WWIII over a border skirmish, or your enemy is going to chip away at you because you won't.


As a tech worker who doesn't want to do work for the military, I know I'd be much more open to it if our military were primarily focused on defending us from genuine threats (ie., China and Russia) instead of playing imperialism in the Middle East.


Boots on the ground actions certainly aren't targeting China and Russia, but what about capability improvements which will pay off if we have to defend ourselves from 'genuine threats'?


The HoloLens case seems pretty boots-on-the-ground to me, and many of the other tech sector contracts you read about have to do with drones/machine learning/image recognition, i.e. taking humans even further out of the equation when it comes to patrolling third-world countries. I won't be a part of that.


Out of curiosity, how do you view America A-bombing Japan? Do you think that it would have been preferable to go forward with operation downfall? In that case, it was a situation where America weighed massive losses on both sides through brute man-on-man mayhem versus using technology to inflict massive casualties on only one side.


And how exactly is Russia threatening the US?



And? It's all about possible tit-for-tat if the US threatens Russia.

Russia never threatens to attack first.

Apparently, the desirable situation for the US is that it can fuck any country and no country cannot harm it back? And if it isn't so, the country is threatening the US, right?


Yea, this is what people on the Left (which I am myself) turn a blind eye. Sure, the US has done plenty of awful shit with our military, but would you prefer the West to not be the dominant block in the world?

That's going to end liberalism way faster. The military / real politik foreign affairs are dirty parts of life that we'd prefer not to have, but we live in a world where we must have them.


If liberalism surviving is defined as “western military hegemony” then I think there’s a problem with liberalism, but the military tools used to enforce it.


How should liberalism respond if 100 liberals can be silenced by 1 authoritarian with a machine gun, and the ratio of authoritarians to liberals is 1:99?


I don't think liberalism has an answer to this question. It appears to me that as liberal democracies become more democratic the likelihood that an authoritarian can take power, from the left or right, increases. So it's somewhat of a paradox.


Well said. It’s definitly a tough position but that is reality. I am an immigrant and lean more to the left of center but we got have common sense.

I would rather have America be dominant than any other nation. With all our faults, we excercise incredible restraint with our immense powers. This of course could change if we end up electing more leaders like Trump. We need to stay strong militarily but also need good and intelligent leaders which unfortunately we don’t currently have.


How many wars has Trump started? I haven't kept count.


Literally... zero?


How many has he ended?


It seems like he is trying to end at least a couple.

However, entrenched interests and Trump haters (both Dem and GOP) can't let that happen.


Do Twitter wars count?


Fair question, it's not just about the wars he starts/ends. It's about the rhetorics and the planting of seeds of conflict and hate and what becomes of it in 4 years or 10 years or 20 years.

Simple words by a country's leader could ruin relationships between nations for decades or between different parts of society.

You don't just start hating {insert favorite target jews|blacks|muslims|christians|whites} overnight, it takes time. You plant the seeds of hate and let them flourish into ethnic cleansing|holocaust|interment camps|etc.

It's our duty to nip that shit in bud right now :). We have come so far to let that sort of shit take us back.

I apologize for taking this discussion in a political direction. In any case, I think it's important for us to have a strong military and Microsoft helping our military build better weapons/systems/tools is a good thing. A strong America is a good thing - as long as we have no Trumps :)


Fair enough. I knew pushing back here on HN with even one fact would buy me some downvotes.


One cherry-picked fact tends to earn, rightfully, downvotes.


Orange Man Bad and all that. There is plenty to jibe at Trump about, however, starting wars is not one of them. That's the exclusive realm of professional Ivy league educated politicians and diplomats AKA our betters.


I'd prefer to not having a dominant block at all .


Remember that multi-polar worlds tend to have far more wars. Even the bi-polar Cold War was highly dangerous. Having a good single block is preferable.


Yeah, right. Almost no wars in the last 30 years.

Except for a few never-ending wars that last so long that are basically a new normal so we can count them off.


I'm not denying there aren't still huge conflicts with high loss of life, however defined, but I'm glad we don't have many true state on state open wars like the past few millennia where large percentages of the population were killed.


So how do you get the other actors to concede and play nice?


That's not an option that you have.


But surely, people who want to work for defence contractors can and will.

And if you were working for a company that wasn't a defence contractor, but is becoming one, you can yell and shout if you think it might deter the company and let you stay where you like staying.


"And if you were working for a company that wasn't a defence contractor...."

Do you have any idea how many decades Microsoft has been getting millions in income from the Pentagon? The whole DoD runs on Microsoft products. Windows. Office. Outlook. Sharepoint. Access. All of that stuff has expensive licenses and enterprise support contracts.

Any employee who joined Microsoft after, say, 1995 and thinks they weren't joining a "defense contractor" is just willfully ignorant.


These conflicts are unlikely to become hot. Maybe some cyber security is worth doing.

But, winning over China as only Trump would say, is more about economics than anything else, isn't it?

Ie. a big thriving economy and by implication a high quality of life gives power and influence -- how does military R&D factor into that?


Unlikely does not mean impossible. There are global tensions with 2 world powers that are now both led by dictators and smaller conflicts happening everywhere. Hoping that another major war won't happen isn't a good plan.


I'm merely arguing that like the cold war, these conflicts are likely to be determined by economic might, rather than armed conflict.


To support this goal, you really need to figure out how the military can be prevented from engaging in further elective wars. In recent history, the main result of contributing to the military has been creating war to benefit private business interests at the expense of our domestic and diplomatic wellbeing, and it's not surprising that enthusiasm for doing so has waned.


This conversation is pretty uninformed.

* MS has had various contracts with the military for decades. The baseline of nearly all end user software in the military is composed of MS products like many other businesses.

* Augmented reality headsets are not weapons anymore than rucksacks or combat boots.

* The military has some cool training aids, such as converted SNES systems that help teach marksmanship on simulated in door ranges. That is by no means unethical.

This really just sounds like activists searching for something to fight about.


It goes beyond even that. This tech would likely help save lives more than end them.

I used to work for a company that specialized in lightweight life support devices. Their major customers were mostly military. But their uses were mostly non-combat: natural disaster response, goodwill, etc.

Of course not everyone in the military is an expert in medical care, so having something like a hololens and the ability for doctors and trained technicians to guide the situation remotely would literally be a life saving option.


Imagine if American engineers had boycotted weapons development when they saw the effects of napalm in WW2/Vietnam and that's where progress stopped.

Governments would still throw napalm and bodies at problems. Many more people would be dead and conflicts would have escalated even further. Overall, refinements in sensors, targeting, and munitions have saved lives.


It think its completely short to blame or qualify ethical distinctions purely upon technology or innovation decisions. Whether those technologies are present or not it still doesn't immediately address more immediate ethical considerations. To solve for that you need formal policies, regulations, or laws in place to govern use, impose oversight, and provide review.

I recommend the movie Good Kill as a solid fictional example. The topic in the movie is morally ambiguous and that doesn't change through the movie. It starts out completely ethical, but the ethics go away once the governing processes are removed and consequences follow.


Sure, though that's going a little further than I was intending. I mean, there's a point to what you say, but. At the above company we also had an opportunity to take a contract to design a new kind of bomb trigger. We debated for some time but ultimately turned it down.

I was on the fence at the time: "if we don't do it someone will ... it's a defense project for national security so it's fine, right? ... etc etc". But ultimately after what has been happening in Yemen I'm SO glad I don't even have to wonder whether it has my name on it.


I think there's a huge difference between technology used to train our troops and technology used to create automated killer drones. Which is to say, I see no reason for Microsoft to hesitate on this contract, but absolutely pushed for Project Maven to be dropped by Google.

If we want our military's actions to be humane, we need to keep real people somewhere out on the front lines, and we need them to be well trained to defend themselves in the event of a real threat, rather than reacting inappropriately to a false one.


I've talked to some DARPA people. The fact that employees will openly revolt for ethics in groups is something everyone has to consider now. The Project Maven thing produced a chilling effect for how they write grants. They feel the pushback and have to think about ethics a little harder.


I don't see that as a bad thing at all. Ethics should be at the forefront of discussion in new technology. But we need to bear in mind that military capability is, in fact, something we must have, and that many people are able to worry about the ethics of what our country does because our military ensures that very survival is not the conversation we are occupied with.

Which is to say, our military can be unethical, but us having a military is not unethical.


In what way does the US Army have anything to do with "survival"? Isolated in the western hemisphere by large oceans, bordered only by large, friendly neighbors, it's as naturally safe as a nation can feasibly be. Nobody on earth has the military capacity to come attack the USA.


It's defense through deterrence - i.e. the opportunity cost of forcefully acquiring control of the largest-GDP nation is quite high.

In a post-nuclear world, this is incredibly complex so it usually ends up playing out in different theaters (Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, etc.) rather than the shores of the U.S. as you pointed out, but the total reserve and reach of that force is still just as important.

The argument can get slippery though when trying to justify allocating resources, because with deterrence it's hard to know exactly how much you need, especially when gaining that knowledge usually comes through defeat of some sort.


The USA's neighbors only became friendly after the USA's military got way more powerful than theirs.

Much of Mexico's territory is de facto controlled by enemies of both Mexico and the USA, and Russia has, or at least is eyeing having, an outpost in the Caribbean right now.

The US used its army directly in the New World at least as recently as 1982, in the invasion of Grenada.


> The US used its army directly in the New World at least as recently as 1982, in the invasion of Grenada.

Or even more recently in '89 down in Panama.

Or in Haiti in '94 -- though that one wasn't necessarily an invasion but the troops were in the air if diplomacy failed.


This is literally what the USA thought before pearl harbor


The USA didn't have a nuclear arsenal capable of destroying all major cities on Earth a few times over in 1941. Nor a military force that is larger than the next ten biggest militaries on earth combined.

It's hardly similar circumstances. An attack on the US mainland today would mean global nuclear war. It's highly improbable to ever happen.


Recently some technologies were developed called airplanes and missiles. That changes things when before we just boats.


And if anyone launches a direct attack on the US, they’ll be attacked with nuclear weapons in return. Hololens wouldn’t help the US at all for self defense, only for action involving deploying troops.


> And if anyone launches a direct attack on the US, they’ll be attacked with nuclear weapons in return. Hololens wouldn’t help the US at all for self defense, only for action involving deploying troops.

So you're saying the US should have nuked Afghanistan? I think you have an oversimple view of international relations and military affairs.


Nuclear weapons weren't necessary for that job, but the outcome was the same: the removal of the Afghani government through military force.


No. An obvious solution to the afganistan problem is to simply cut off all immigration from that country.

Or enact similar immigration restrictions, like Trump did about a year ago.


Deploying troops is far less genocidal than dropping nukes, don't you think? I'd much rather us the former than the latter.


ICBMs can go anywhere.


I think you're forgetting about Pearl Harbor.


Why don't they just engage friendlier / smaller companies?

I think there's a coordination issue here. Tech can be intolerant of views that don't align with progressive orthodoxy (doubly so in tech hubs), the DOD needs tech workers who are more aligned with their mission than the progressive techie detractors. Why don't some badthinkers band together and get a DOD contract? I imagine it's because the DOD isn't going to give a new shop it's first chance but has anyone looked into this?


Let's just say getting DoD contracts isn't a simple process of showing you have a good idea and tech skills. There is a lot of who knows who, and is not entirely bad I think. We are building our security here, we need to be confident people can do what they say they will do.


It's also that tech workers simply don't need the money. They aren't going to starve if they leave Microsoft or Google over some project dispute; they'll find another job in two seconds.


Only policy change can make your military more humane.

If your military policy is to siege populated cities and villages, bomb amd shell them, killing thousands of people caught in the cross-fire in the process, that's what should be the focus, if you're interested in humane military.

That's already much more indiscriminate than some Google killer drone ever will be.


We are more humane. So much more then in any conflict before this. Looks at Dresden in WW2 or the carpet bombing of N. Vietnam. We have become too humane if you ask me. A Roman citizen could walk the length of the world untouched because the penalty was that the Romans would kill everyone as a reprisal. The job of the military is to kill people and break things. The job of the military is to end a conflict as quick as possible with the least amount of death of their own people. We forgot this in Korea and Vietnam. We forgot the first rule. I lost friends because we could not call in heavy support (Afghanistan). The Korean War would have ended with far less dead civilians if they let MacAuthur fight without tying his hands - A Chinese plane, takes off from China, kills UN troops, American plane gives chase, Chinese plane crosses an imaginary line and has to be let go, to land unbothered only to kill again the next day. 2.5M civilian dead, 2M soldiers because a weapon was consider to be to lethal. Bayonet, Bullet, Bomb or Nuke on a military target, they all kill. One just ends it faster.


Here here. There is only total war. Anything else is just getting people killed for reasons.

Sorry about your friends. That really turns my stomach. My son was an Army Ranger (FIST/JTAC) he said being in SOCOM gave them more ROE freedom. And, in the rare cases when things started to get sketchy bombs and missiles could be brought on target on the authority of the ground commander (company cmdr or platoon leader) no questions asked.

edit: a/an


I understand, but what I was trying to say is that I just don't think that automated killer drones are some distinct category of weapons when it comes to something being more humane or not.

These things will still be commanded by humans, and there will still be decisions made at some level wrt how many bystanders it's ok to kill in the operation. Just like with bombs, artilery, etc.


I thought Maven was mostly for scanning vast amount of collected non-live zoomed out satellite imagery (think of finding where North Korea hides missiles), rather than live killer drone use case.


Probably just refit of stuff they sell to China already.


There is a huge difference, but that doesn't mean this project is Ok. Supporting war is supporting war. The budget and size of the US military are so far beyond what is needed for practical defense. If we want our military's actions to be humane, we should drastically cut their budget and stop sending soldiers to kill people in other countries.


[flagged]


Please keep national and political flamewar off HN. It's not what this site is for.

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


I really don't care what Russia or china thinks.

The only thing I care about is that we stop wasting trillions of dollars for the purpose of killing brown people.


Russia and China don’t care about US military spending when they’re considering genocide. For example, see the Uyghur muslim population in China, which is being genocided right now.


Got any data points to back up that claim of genocide?

Xinjiang is definitely under siege, with millions of people being placed in internment camps [1]. China's actions to date may be seen as a precursor to genocide, but that has not occurred yet.

1: https://www.washingtonpost.com/...million-uighurs.../2aa871d....


There is no closing pandoras box when it comes to military tech.


Why is this particular contract a redline? The US military uses Microsoft Windows on their weapon systems platforms and Microsoft Office for their office admin. Microsoft is already a provider for the military's infrastructure and will be for the foreseeable future.


Activists at Microsoft looked at the success of activists at Google at pushing company to drop military contracts, and now feel more encouraged to push the company than they were decades ago, when military contracts were seen as a completely normal thing.


I think you've nailed it. Unfortunately, I think those Microsoft employees are going to see a different reaction from their management.


Probably uninformed opinion given I haven’t worked at either, but I suspect you’re right.

Microsoft seems to be a lot more grounded in the dollars and cents of running a business. I doubt a few squeaky wheels distract them.

Google seems to still attract many idealists who feel they’re creating a better world (ironically, through advertising). They seem to operate with a flatter management structure that gives engineers freeer reign.

Also, the nature of the projects seem to be fundamentally different.


I don't think that's true with the current MSFT under Smith and Nadella.


I think there's social and legal precedent the differentiates between a generally useful tool that can be used in the commission of violence (eg. cars), and a tool specifically meant for the commission of violence (eg. guns).


You have it backwards. Computers, software engineering, networking, cryptography, wireless digital comms, and so on, were made for war. It so happens they turned out to have some good peacetime applications too.


Computer, internet, CPU, and pretty much a lot of modern tech was created/refined out of funding by and for armed forces.

I find this news to be incredibly ironic.

And I disagree with the demands, just in my personal opinion.

We have real, powerful enemies that would love to dethrone US as the dominant nation. Those who demand this restriction for working on military contracts have to seriously consider this.


After looking at what happened with Google, never even mind this, I think we need to seriously consider having the military taking the Apple approach to systems: own the whole damn widget, or system.

If private sector workers can regularly get their private sector companies to pull out of US military contracts, we have a problem.


Are you talking about the distinction between weapons and non-weapons? Is there another legal distinction?


"Dual use" in the ITAR sense? A rule of thumb would be if you wouldn't sell it to Iran you shouldn't sell it to the Saudis, and selling it to the US will result in the Saudis having it.


What about a humvee? Is that a 'car' or a 'gun'? Is a jacket with pouches necessary to hold rifle ammunition a weapon, or merely innocent clothing?

Wherever you draw the distinction, know that it's arbitrary.


It's not that arbitrary and in any case that doesn't invalidate their position.


You've avoided my question, probably because you know I'm right. The line between 'car' and 'gun' is fuzzy when you consider a car that's specifically been designed to carry guns.

A military with guns but no transportation is like a clock with an escapement but no gears. Gears are used by lots of things, not just clocks, and clocks need an escapement, but without gears that clock doesn't function. The gears don't define the clock in quite the same way as an escapement, but they're nevertheless necessary.

My point here is that making cars for the military but refusing to make guns for them is quite silly. If you really want to opt-out of the military industrial complex, you'll need to make more sacrifices.


It was a bad question, but I'll answer it now for you to clear up your confusion. A Humvee is neither a car nor a gun. Not sure why you think it must be one of those things. It's a Humvee. There are all kinds of consistent policies a person could have for ethical work: refusing to manufacture weapons, refusing to manufacture anything designed primarily for war, etc. I don't see any contradiction or inconsistencies there. If you were trying to point one out, maybe try again.


Ah I see, you're pedantry to avoid the meat of the discussion.

"Car" in this case is shorthand for

> "generally useful tool that can be used in the commission of violence (eg. cars)"

A humvee is just that. However it's also specifically designed to be one component of various weapon systems; e.g. humvees with TOW anti-tank guided missiles mounted on top. When configured in that way, a humvee is no less a weapon than a tank. So a humvee is also "a gun" (shorthand for "something that kills".) That's not hypothetical either, such humvees were used in the killings of Uday and Qusay Hussein.

So let me reiterate. Just about anything the military uses is used to facilitate killing in one way or the other. The degree to which any particular widget contributes to the lethality of the military is a smooth gradient. This was my point with the humvee, it exists somewhere in the middle. Since we're dealing with a gradient, where you decide to draw your line in the sand arbitrary.


Nearly everything is "arbitrary" in the sense that you are using it. Wherever a machine learning classifier draws the line between categories is going to be arbitrary, but that doesn't mean it's not useful. Having some policy for ethical behavior is better than nothing.


I don't think it's that arbitrary. If Microsoft employees really wanted to bring the US military to a screeching halt, they could just turn off the DOD's email.


Pretty sure the Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI) is the largest Active Directory deployment in the world still.


It doesn't help that the Army's own PR for the specific contract emphasized increasing the "lethality" of American soldiers.


Lethality is a term of art in milx.


And PowerPoint. Beaucoup powerpoint.


I personally find the idea that augmented reality headsets are "weapons" to be extremely stupid. Augmented reality doesn't really have much of a market yet and cutting yourself off from the US military also seems really stupid. The entire origins of computing and the internet was about facilitating the US military.


I think there's a larger and more complex argument here. Technologies like AR dehumanize war. It becomes not that different to dropping some bombs in a video game like Call of Duty.

I believe people who work on these technologies simply don't want to have that "blood" on their hands.

Unfortunately, for every person that don't want to get involved in this, there's probably a few that do. So those $450MM will end in the bank accounts of Raytheon or any of the other usuals suspects.


BS. Good imagery tech will keep the conflict closer and more personal because the shooter can clearly see or identify who he or she is killing.

Compared to carpet bombing from 50,000 ft smart weapons make war very personal.


Yeah. People seem to forget that while technology advances have monotonically increased the potential for collateral damage, they've also in practice broadly lowered the incidence of collateral damage.


Or it could, y'know, simply paint the proposed target with an overlay which makes it easier to kill but not sympathise with.


I don’t know dude. I think there’s a big difference between piloting a B-2 bomber over the Iraq desert, and firing at a target with an Xbox Controller and a Hololens Headset, from an office in a Virginia suburb.

If it doesn’t dehumanize war at the very least is commoditizing warfare.


Uh, PTSD is really common among drone pilots.


Consider that a century ago technology had advanced to the point where artillery could kill people that couldn't be seen. With a map and a slide rule, trajectories over the horizon could be calculated with disturbing lethality.

Of course the psychological impact of such artillery was almost as devastating as the lethal impact. Knowing that at any moment you could be killed without warning by a shell you'd never see coming, by a man over the horizon induced a great deal of PTSD.


>The entire origins of computing and the internet was about facilitating the US military.

Do you have any idea how ignorant that is? Even if we set aside Babbage's vaporware, the first electromechanical programmable binary computer was German: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z1_(computer)

* Alan Turing and Thomas Flowers were British, and Colossus (the first electric programmable computer) was built at Bletchley Park in Britain.

* ENIAC was a project at the University of Pennsylvania.

And from there, it's all universities and businesses like DEC. The computer, aside from Britain's contributions during WWII, has largely been an academic pursuit that the US military has had fuck all to do with.

Hell, the Internet was just one of many WAN systems that happened to catch on (networks like ALOHAnet were implemented well before)...and it was mostly due to academic use, culminating in some crazy researcher at CERN in Switzerland developing World Wide Web for it.


Whoopdeedoo... Z1 didn't go anywhere... the UK were allies using the tech for codebreaking... and you can't get more military industrial complex than ENIAC.

You can parse my words however you like, but my general point is that the US military industrial complex was the biggest driver in the creation of silicon valley.


> * ENIAC was a project at the University of Pennsylvania.

This was completely military driven:

> Although ENIAC was designed and primarily used to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory, its first program was a study of the feasibility of the thermonuclear weapon.[0]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC


So we have to do whatever the army wants based on the principle that we owe them for inventing computers?


You're jumping at the least charitable interpretation of that comment. I'd suggest practicing the opposite: if someone seems to be saying something obviously extreme, stupid, etc... consider that your interpretation is what's wrong.


I'm going to try that with Trump's twitter feed.


That’s not a bad idea. I’ve found that this approach to the world (trying to think of reasons why something makes sense, instead of reasons it doesn’t) makes everything easier to understand and makes life more satisfying. And if you do come to the conclusion that someone is wrong and needs to be opposed, you’ll do a better job at it.


i actually suspect that a failure to do that is one (of many) reasons his political opponents are not remotely as effective as they ostensibly could be.


Both good points, but is the military always bad? They are a great resource as an incubator for tech and they are especially receptive to this industry.


> So we have to do whatever the army wants

using straw-men like this doesn't typically end well, so why use one?


No, the point is that a lot of good things come out of military spending.


On a side note, something in the javascript loaded after the page crashes my browser.

Regarding the article itself:

Employees posted a thing to twitter. Microsoft is currently not planning to stop working on this contract.

Quote from the article:

Microsoft and the U.S. Army did not immediately respond to requests to comment. Company President Brad Smith said in an October blog post it remained committed to assisting the military.

“We’ll engage not only actively but proactively across the U.S. government to advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically,” Smith wrote.


"we demand a say in how our work is used"

Then go live in some other country instead of freeloading on the protections afforded by this one.


If you don’t like peaceful democratic protest, it sounds to me like you’re the one living in the wrong country.


Or just quit. If you're working on something you believe can be used immorally, why should it matter who your customer is?


Certain lines of thinking kick in on the "second one." Sometimes the "second one" reflects a heightened degree of intent/planning. If you see one person dancing, it's just one person dancing, but if a 2nd person is dancing the exact same way, it must be a planned performance. One plane crashes into a building, it's an accident; 2nd plane crashes, it's no accident. And so on.

Hang on, I'm gettin' there.

Other times the "second one" makes it occur to you to extrapolate all the way to the end. Your friend eats one of your doughnuts - "Enjoy." She eats a 2nd one, "Hey don't eat them all!" This is more like that. When one big tech company's employees say no to a military contract, it's like "The military will go somewhere else." But when the second one does it, then it occurs to me to ask, could it ever happen that everybody would refuse? Could the Pentagon ever run out of competent tech people before they ran out of people refusing? I don't think it's likely, but still it's interesting to imagine. Far from leading to world peace I suppose it would just mean that those projects were still done, but incompetently. Dunno how I feel about that. War sucks, but waging it competently is better than e.g. blowing up your buddy by accident.


Since a link to the actual tweet posted by the Microsoft workers is somewhat conspicuously absent from the article, here it is: https://twitter.com/MsWorkers4/status/1099066343523930112

If you work at Microsoft, you can sign the petition on the intranet site https://aka.ms/hololens4good


How many workers have signed the petition?


There's no way to tell, it's just a form you can fill out to sign the open letter.


As a Microsoft employee, I never grant them to represent me. And also I don't support their demand.


“we demand a say in how our work is used”

you already have a say 100% it’s called freedom to decide where you work


That's totally not true? Many people signing this letter specifically worked on the project before they knew it was going to be used for warfare. Now they are demanding a say in whether the multi-purpose product will be explicitly sold for warfare or not.

If you ambush people with a reveal that they were actually working on military tech you can't expect them all to be happy about it. That's very different from taking a job offer, showing up to work, getting told 'we're making military tech' and saying 'OK'. HoloLens is an existing product, the result of a very large amount of engineering and research. Many of the people who contributed - perhaps even pivotal, highly-compensated employees - were definitely not aware that it would get sold to the US military, even if it's not a big leap to suggest that they might be a customer.


That's precisely what gives this any force at all: the people saying it are in a position to harm the project by removing themselves from it.


That doesn't make a lot of sense. If they are a position to harm the project and did due to their objections; then they would be out of a job. If they quit given their objections then the project would also be harmed and they would still be out of a job. The outcome would be the same of seeking new employment.


That's what backs up any employee's position in negotiating with the employer. If it goes down to the wire, either the employee must have a willingness to leave, or a group of employees must credibly believe that "they can't fire all of us".


"Those who are reluctant to feed their own army shall feed a foreign army."


"Every up-to-date dictionary should say that "peace" and "war" mean the same thing, now in posse, now in actu" - William James in "The Moral Equivalent of War" https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/moral.html


From Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary (1906)

OCCIDENT, n. The part of the world lying west (or east) of the Orient. It is largely inhabited by Christians, a powerful subtribe of the Hypocrites, whose principal industries are murder and cheating, which they are pleased to call “war” and “commerce.” These, also, are the principal industries of the Orient.

BOUNDARY, n. In political geography, an imaginary line between two nations, separating the imaginary rights of one from the imaginary rights of the other.

CANNON, n. An instrument employed in the rectification of national boundaries.

PEACE, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

GUNPOWDER, n. An agency employed by civilized nations for the settlement of disputes which might become troublesome if left unadjusted.

PROJECTILE, n. The final arbiter in international disputes. Formerly these disputes were settled by physical contact of the disputants, with such simple arguments as the rudimentary logic of the times could supply – the sword, the spear, and so forth. With the growth of prudence in military affairs the projectile came more and more into favor, and is now held in high esteem by the most courageous. Its capital defect is that it requires personal attendance at the point of propulsion.


"Several Microsoft Corp employees on Friday demanded that the company cancel a $480 million hardware contract with the U.S. Army and stop developing “any and all weapons technologies.”"

Apparently "several" means three. How and why is this news? Microsoft has thousands of employees.


> Apparently "several" means three.

“Several” has long meant three or more, but the article says that three workers described the effort to Reuters, not that the three constituted the entire effort.


Several is usually not used in that context, the word in the headline should be "a few."


> How and why is this news?

"Described to Reuters by three Microsoft workers" doesn't necessarily mean only three workers are involved in this protest. However I would be interested to see the actual numbers. If the number of employees signing the petition were impressive, I'd expect it to be prominently reported. Since it's not, that leads me to suspect it's not very much more than three.


Agreed, but they got both of us to click, didn't they?


But is it worthy of a click? I can find "several" people of any opinion.


Let's just say that Reuters got more value out of the click than I did.


This is the wrong question. Did you click, or did you not?

I did - and more fool me, perhaps. But I clicked. And that's all that counts.


I'd like to think you are right, I am much more comfortable with greed than ideology from the press.


I would be heart broken to learn that my work was used to facilitate killing.

I empathize for the developers involved; I hope those that feel as I do find brighter opportunities.


I wouldn't care.

Are the designers of TCP/IP responsible for everyone whose death was assisted by the internet? Are Orville and Wilbur burning in Hell for all the people who were killed by things dropped from planes? And God help whichever unfortunate human invented the wheel. Sorry for my tone, but I find this perspective naive and annoyingly sanctimonious.

I'm making tools. People can use them for whatever. I hope no one murderers anyone (unless they have a really good reason) but I'm only responsible for making sure I don't murder anyone, and so far I'm doing okay.


It comes down to intent.

I once had a neighbor who worked at Boeing, programming the guidance systems on smart bombs. The only reason I even remember him to this day is because immediately after introducing what he did for a living, he followed with, "I don't actually pull the trigger. I make the smart bombs smarter so they don't hurt innocent people."

I only remember this exchange because it can be interpreted several different ways.


If you're working on a technology that you know is created in contract with the military, is that not concerning?


I have written software that is being used by the military and I didn't find it concerning. I find the anti-military sentiment on this website more concerning.

I'm pretty liberal but I do not think the military is a vestigial organ. Your worldview is not the only worldview. Your morality is not the only morality.


When did I claim a morality or worldview? You may be reading my posts in bad faith.


Your post implies that a person ought to be concerned if the military wants to use software that person has written. To me, it seems obvious that that perspective follows from various propositions about the world and about morality.

If you meant anything other than that by your post, feel free to explain. But I don't see any other way to interpret what you wrote. I don't think I'm guilty of misinterpretation, and certainly not "bad faith" i.e. willful misinterpretation.


I meant it could be reasonable to be concerned.


Concerned why? Because of moral reasons? If not, you need to explain further.


The examples you chose (TCP/IP, airplanes, etc.) show pretty clear willful misinterpretation, and I think you know that.


i worked on software used by military police to record criminal interviews. should i be concerned that it's used by the military, or should i be relieved that the military courts have more accurate/complete recordings?


I think there should be concern that surveillance is also used by the military on leaders in progressive movements, also. Military force has been used against domestic social movements in the near past and possibly continues to be used in the present.


it wasn't surveillance software, and couldn't have been repurposed to that end. it was for recording people being interviewed in connection with military police investigations. it even did its best to prevent the investigators from tampering with the recordings. concerning, or not?


I don't understand, it wasn't surveillance, but it was for recording people?


Have you ever seen a TV show or movie with an interrogation scene? I assume that's what the poster is referring to. Not recording people in their homes or anything untoward like that


You mean the military that has helped ensure the affluence and security of the Western world? The military isn't bad just because it's the military. It serves important and necessary functions, ones that don't go away just because you want it to.


I never claimed to make a position. I merely said that maybe a position against the military is not entirely unreasonable.


"It is not unreasonable for it to be concerning." is a position, by the way.


What's your line? Do you work on contracts for police? What about the United Nations? Any government contract at all, including local? I can find examples of all of them acting against populations and causing harm, as well for good.


My line is merely understanding and allowing others to protest things they find hurtful and believing they are valid in doing so. I never said I shared this view and I'm concerned you took my words so far from their face value.


> If you're working on a technology that you know is created in contract with the military, is that not concerning?

Implies to me that I should feel bad morally. Just my reading of it, but if lots of people are reading it that way as well, you may want to work on the wording if people are attributing more than you intended.


What if your work helped reduce the amount of innocent civilians or soldiers that are killed in war?

I guess we could always go back to the good old daze when advanced tech or computers were not used in weapons systems. I wasn't around back then, but it sure seems like there sure were more innocent people killed in the bygone days of software-free weapons systems.

High-tech weapon systems save lives. But I am pretty sure you already know that.


> High-tech weapon systems save lives. But I am pretty sure you already know that.

Not the OP, but what the high-tech weapon systems do (among other things, like killing innocent people attending weddings in remote parts of Afghanistan or Yemen) is to disengage the killers (i.e. the people making the decision to shoot, sometime from thousands and thousands of miles away) from their acts, as those doing the killing bear almost no risks of getting killed in retaliation and they also don't get to see the distorted limbs of those they get to kill. As such, the decision to make the kill becomes more and more easy and more and more random, because it doesn't have almost any effects on those who are responsible for said killings.

This is a very, very sad state of affairs for us, as a species, I mean, the fact that we've managed to make the act of killing to have almost no moral consequences on those that actually carry said killings.


Drone pilots are not disengaged from the psychological and moral trauma of war.

> Some say that the drone war has driven them over the edge. "How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?" Heather Linebaugh, a former drone imagery analyst, wrote in the Guardian. "When you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience."

> "It was horrifying to know how easy it was. I felt like a coward because I was halfway across the world and the guy never even knew I was there,” Bryant told KNPR Radio in Nevada. "I felt like I was haunted by a legion of the dead. My physical health was gone, my mental health was crumbled. I was in so much pain I was ready to eat a bullet myself."

https://www.salon.com/2015/03/06/a_chilling_new_post_traumat...


Thank you for posting this.


No, we should clearly go back to the days of low tech seige warfare, when battles were won by slowly starving people until they gave up.


This type of cost/benefit calculation was the justification for using the nuclear fission bomb on Japan in WW2.

The estimated cost of deaths of pushing the Pacific invasion without the bomb was higher than the cost of deaths using the bomb to force a surrender. Keep in mind this was in an era when total war existed, and civilians of warring nations were considered unarmed combatants.


Another example: the only technology, today, being realistic, to actually make an impact in CO2 reduction, is nuclear. And nuclear was born as a weapon. In a race to beat the enemy, who would have got the technology soon after.


This particular system seems to be focused on our soldiers' "lethality, mobility and situational awareness."

So while the "lethality" certainly is all about facilitating killing, I would say the other points are at least somewhat about lifesaving for our troops.


Dead soldiers aren't very lethal, so any distinction between the two seems rather arbitrary. Technology that helps soldiers survive necessarily helps soldiers kill. But this whole topic of "for the military" or "facilitating killing" is rather arbitrary.

If you work on a smartphone app for hailing taxis, that's probably not going to be plausibly military. But what if you work in a steel mill? You help in the production of steel that is necessary to create buildings and bridges, but also military ships and tanks and just about everything else. Is the production of steel a part of the military-industrial complex? Could the military-industrial complex continue operating without steel? Definitely not, the production of steel is essential to the military, yet it seems a bit strange for producers of steel to lose sleep over what their steel is used for.

But actually, let's go back to that taxi app. Most military personnel aren't in warzones, virtually all of them own smartphones, and a great many of them may be using ride hailing apps regularly. If such apps increase their personal efficiency, perhaps letting them get to work faster. If a drone operator in Utah uses your app to get to work hung over after a hard night of drinking, does that mean your taxi app is helping to kill people?


What about folks who work on digital skinner boxes or dark patterned tech, such as, ad networks, social media, free-to-gamble games, anything Android, gig-economy apps, or the like.

People in those industries don't even have the fig-leaf of "national defense" to help them sleep at night.

For them it is only about money, t-shirts, and free food. Who cares how many lives they ruin along the way.

They are true sociopaths, though inexplicably they would feel horrible if their work helped save a 19 year-old soldier's life or helped enable shooters recognize an incorrect target before harming innocents.


Fully agree. Microsoft at least is otherwise relatively clean since they're best known for productivity software (although we could dive into what that productivity is actually accomplishing..) but when they start doing shit like promoting Candy Crush, I think that's well over the line.


The Nazis used the latest card punch tech to track people and facilitate the mass killing of people.

Joseph Stalin famously used the telephone in the middle of the night to make calls leading to the mass murder of thousands during his reign.

Churchill and Roosevelt used the first application of spread spectrum technology to securely communicate. This led to the deaths of millions of Axis personnel.

Are all of these equivalent?

I would be actually horrified to find out after the fact that I did not do all I could do to stop monsters such as Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. If something I build could stop someone like that, I'm all for it.


How about stopping monsters from doing things like My Lai massacre?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Lai_Massacre


Do you actually think there is a moral equivalence between actions directed be Stalin, Mao, Hitler, etc, and an incident that was not directed as a general policy, and was in fact against policy, and which in fact sickened the responders?


Yeah, right, an incident. How is that smell of napalm in the morning?


I feel like I’m living in the twilight zone seeing how far your comments been downvoted and the responses.

I totally support individuals rights to work on these kind of tools; and I totally support people demanding their work not be co-opted for lethal purposes


Roads/oil/education/internet/mining/etc can be and used for military purposes.

Where do you want to draw the line?


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