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[dupe] Microsoft Staff: Do Not Use HoloLens for War (bbc.co.uk)
39 points by sambeau 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

Previous discussion [1].

    Microsoft Workers Demand It Drop $450M U.S. Army Contract (reuters.com)
    202 points by petethomas 13 hours ago | cached | flag | hide | past | web | favorite | 260 comments
[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19229773

Where exactly is the limit?

Windows, Microsoft Office and other Software is used "for war" all the time, and not just by the US.

Exactly. So is Linux, C++, and Java. I remember being at a conference where this was discussed ages ago. The speaker was describing a colleague chastising her for working on code for a guidance system. He had helped develop a mouse, which she pointed out was also used throughout the military. It’s good that there are people who do not want to find more and more better ways to blow each other up, but disingenuous to try to ban a particular technology. If MS doesn’t get the contracts, someone else will. Some exceptions-nuclear and maybe autonomous AI. But even the later seems inevitable. AR will either be a flop or ubiquitous, and so you can’t prevent that any more than Englebert could prevent the mouse being used for military purposes.

For me the only meaningful line is where Software is clearly and mainly intended for use in a weapon system. For example a guidance system for a particular rocket, autopilot software for a military drone etc.

And I don't necessarily have a problem with that in a relatively sane jurisdiction, either. The only good reason to have a powerful military force run by a democratic government is to guard against powerful military forces run by someone else.

I have come to a different conclusion on the last part: I live in Germany, a relatively peaceful country that is reluctant to use its military. Yet, there big weapon manufacturers here and they sell what they develop for the German government also abroad. So countries like Saudi Arabia get access to our stuff. Thus, I am fairly certain that almost every weapon system that has been developed in Germany since the second world war has been used to shoot at people in situations that Germany has no control over. Weapon exports from the US and other countries are much the same. When it is built, it will be used. And it won't generally be used by the power that you entrusted with that tech.

The system isn't perfect.

Just refusing to arm your own country and your allies can't be the perfect answer, either.

How about we start at someplace obvious like not assisting people carrying weapons from blowing other peoples brains out. Or marking people who need to be murdered on a projected display. That seems pretty obvious to me. We can even extend it to not being used by people who's job description involves killing foreigners (including countrymen of many Microsoft employees) on command.

We can refine from there.

Yeah, good idea. Let's not have armies. I'm sure the people whose ideology or religion we'd rather not be forced to adhere to will do entirely the same thing.

Maybe, just maybe, these radicals would have less support in their home countries now if the US hadn't marched into their home countries and occupied them. That antagonized a lot of people. But that is not what happened.

Oh sure, but you are talking about a specific scenario.

Did France antagonize Germany in the 1930’s? Or did Germany have something they want to do and just went and did it?

We can dream of a utopia where the military is not necessary. But that is not the reality of this world.

I think that's a false dichotomy. Office software is general purpose, and maybe the military buys it like everyone else. AR gear for soldiers is not general purpose.

Similarly, criminals and non-criminals alike use public roads and internet, but only one of those groups would have need of a weapon with a ground-off serial number, for example.

So is the point the buyer, or the purpose?

Microsoft is a defense contractor. They've been working closely with the military since the 90s. I'm not sure when people decided to suddenly ignore or forget this.

Does it matter when? If the employees decide they don't want to develop for the military, that's their prerogative. They can try to change their current employer's practices, or they can leave.

HoloLens is not much less dual-use as Ms Office, I'd say...

It will be used for porn and military purposes. It's extremely naive to assume the opposite.

What's more, it's extremely naive to work in big tech like Microsoft or Google and not expect your work to be used by military some day.

You say that as if there's a huge history of these companies' tech being used to enhance warfare.

Militaries around the world already use the Xbox 360 controller extensively. As well as Surfaces, and of course the obvious like Windows, Excel, Word, etc.

And before that, different versions of windows. I recall going for an interview with some sonar guys looking at using Direct3D back in the late 90s.

Don't think you need history to make a prediction of how history might change for well-thought-out reasons. And Windows is a key OS in many military operations/departments.

As an employee, you kind of need history to be able to make a prediction like that, otherwise you will be a bit surprised when you see your employer is taking on contracts to enhance the military, to speak to the naivete that was brought up earlier.

While Windows might be used by the military, that doesn't mean it was built to enhance warfare, the same way if the military used Ubuntu you wouldn't expect Canonical employees to protest about it.

There is. Silicon Valley was formed out of military projects.

I see no objections regarding use for porn in the article.

Refreshing to see employees of a megacorp speak up against company decisions. I wish we could see more of the same from Facebook. Unfortunately a huge paycheck seems to do weird things to your ethical compass. It’s not enough that those that disagree simply quit.

What is the ethical consideration here? Augmented reality headsets aren't weapons.

I find it unrefreshing to see employees warping something benign to achieve personal attention. This is a fight in search of a subject.

> Augmented reality headsets aren't weapons.

Who you sell to can always be an ethical consideration, even if the product isn't "unethical" in itself.

> to achieve personal attention.

What makes you think these people would want "personal attention"? Isn't the attention here mostly a risk?

Who they are selling to is an ethical entity, their own government, so this point doesn’t make any sense.

I am thinking this matter is about personal attention because the complaint is absurd. It simply isn’t rational.

This sounds like a publicity stunt.

No group of educated people can seriously think this would have any effect...

... said some person about every single strike action, protest, etc. Yet it only depends on whether you can get a critical mass behind your idea.

Do something is better than do nothing.

Not necessarily. Doing something can be worse than doing nothing.

It did at Google

let's add some critical thinking: why not use it for war? Would it be better for the world if the US military was less well equipped relative to Al-Qaeda, Russia? I sure don't think so. I think it's best that any fight our military gets into is as asymmetric as possible, and in general the more asymmetry, the less people will die.

I'd further like to emphasize that the idea that the inequality in strength between our military and various 3rd world warlords is a form of injustice is absurd and childlike and anyone who thinks this way deserves to have their opinions discounted like children.

Since you said "for the world", I'll just point the obvious counter-argument - given how politically unpalatable large troop losses have become since Vietnam, less asymmetry in favor of the U.S. military might well make the kind of military adventures the world generally detests substantially less likely. Of course, given what we now know regarding the depth and quality of post-invasion planning for Iraq, it's questionable whether there would be any meaningful difference.

Then there's the other counter-argument with respect to Russia and China - and it's the same argument that was used against Reagan's SDI (when a few still thought some of it might work) and any meaningful ABM system. Namely, that inducing too much asymmetry in specific areas provides incentives for the potential opponents to engage in much riskier behavior, develop asymmetrical first strike measures, etc. Less relevant now than it was 30-40 years ago, but not without any merit (recall the recent Russian announcements regarding their new missile programs).

> Of course, given what we now know regarding the depth and quality of post-invasion planning for Iraq, it's questionable whether there would be any meaningful difference.

Increasing warfare precision is always beneficial. It isn't about the belligerents in the conflict, but the civilians in the crossfire and potentials for collateral damage. If technology advances coupled with training reduce rules of engagement violations the people on the ground are the biggest winners.

While I mostly agree with you, there is one caveat to that position. Increased warfare precision also affects the rules of engagement directly - strikes that may have been considered impermissible due to high collateral damage may become feasible as the expected damage goes down to more palatable levels. It's probably impossible to quantify that effect with any meaningful accuracy and I'm strongly inclined to think precision warfare is still a net win, but it's not quite an unmitigated benefit with no side effects.

The US military has killed far more civilians and promoted far more terror around the world than the Russian Federation or Al Qaeda. Your belief that war is good when enacted by your country is so childlike that it is literally promoted by cartoons and action films aimed at children.

So your idea is that if maybe China/Russia(or the adversary of the day) does this then anyone should do it.

Even if China does not do it, does anyone else should do it anyway to be on top of China. Do you draw a line anywhere? like should everyone research weapons forever to try to get/remain on top?

My second point is even if you go ahead and do weapons let the people speak and have a debate, telling us that having more weapons is good is dogma IMO, debating this dogma and respecting the people that don't want to create weapons should be a given in a free society.

The problem with current weapon systems is that they are too powerful. The US military is now primarily focusing on weaker but more precise guided weapons to avoid collateral damage.

> deserves to have their opinions discounted like children.

Although I agree with your general sentiment, there's no need for ad hominem attacks like this.

I agree. Probably doesn't help the point get across...

When a company finishes developing a weapon for one purpose, it thinks of all the other possible ways to profit from it, then you have several million reasons not to turn down foreign countries because of those "pesky ethical questions".

This isn't a theoretical discussion, because people are already selling combat technology based on HoloLens outside of the US.

Interesting thought experiment: if you think of the military as a business - then you’re basically advocating for the US to have a monopoly on military power.

3rd world warlords aren't the only other militaries in the world.


I’d say your paranoia and justification for any tool to be used for a potential unknown threat deserves to get discounted like a child’s

Yes it would be better for the world if the US took a more collaborative approach with other regional powers that it disagrees with

They can always package up anything used for military purposes and move it to a different branch or subsidiary to create a large enough disconnect that will keep most employees satisfied.

Not really, because they need to keep HoloLens inside the company. They could create a subsidiary which buys HoloLenses and sells them to the government, but that would still mean that Microsoft is taking a contract to sell the units.

> Not really, because they need to keep HoloLens inside the company.

HoloLens maybe, but the hypothetical repackaged FreedomLens could simply be based off of it.

I hope they will use SignalR and Orleans as backend for battle operations so I can market my skills as battle tested.



If they really want to have any control over what Microsoft does with their technology they should unionize. Same goes for any other large tech company.

They are completely free to quit if they don't like what they're building is used to help their soldiers defend their own country.

> help their soldiers defend their own country

When is the last time the US military actually "defended" its own territory/country, heck even just its own continent? How does droning people in Pakistan, and having troops stationed in Syria "help" with "defending" the US?

Even worse: This kind of logic is then used by NATO allies to justify their own partaking in US foreign military adventures. That's how the Germans "protective military" ended up "Protecting freedom at the Hindukush" [0].

[0] https://www.afghanistan-analysts.org/protecting-freedom-at-t...

The only attack on american soil I can recall is Pearl Habor...

Almost invariably, to provide the american military with hardware is to arm an offensive force.

As has been pointed out repeatedly in other comments, we live in a post-nuclear era where military strength is, itself, the defense. In this particular case, it's less relevant, but since we are generalizing I'm pointing it out.

As for improving military training and tactical hardware, yes it will most likely be used for offensive purposes. The absence of the technology wouldn't stop those offensives though; the absence would just result in less-well-trained less-well-equipped troops in the same situation. As has been pointed out elsewhere, bad training and lack of information is likely to lead to more deaths.

While I think it's wonderful employees of major tech companies are trying to drive more ethical choices, this was an odd choice for a line in the sand.

> we live in a post-nuclear era

That's a bold statement to make, particularly in the context of the US pulling out of INF and JCPA (Iran deal), especially when accounting for the reality that nuclear weapons "modernization" is still steadily going on [0]. That's not something you'd expect to see in the "post-nuclear era".

Particularly not with a US president who clearly does not understand nuclear weapons and would just love to sell and use them.

[0] https://thebulletin.org/2017/03/how-us-nuclear-force-moderni...

Post-nuclear as in: following the invention and use of nuclear weapons.

If not US forces, my country Georgia would be occupied by Russia back in 2008. People in world and espessially EU did not understand how lucky they are that US millitary exist and they do not live under Russian occupation.

Also fear to be millitary contractor for your own country seems pathologic to me.

Yeah, instead we have US occupation in many other countries. And US military bases all around the world. Yahoo!

I wish to see US military base in my country. This will be one of the best days in my life.

Luckily they are also completely free to use that leverage to pressure their employees to try to change decisions.

They're also completely free to protest, luckily.

And are not free to speak? The only option is to shut up and resign?

They're all there on H1Bs so the soldiers aren't really defending the workers' countries

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