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Microsoft CEO defends US military contract that employees say crosses a line (cnn.com)
72 points by metaphysics 23 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 79 comments



I can never understand those protesters. If they can sabotage military in all countries, that may be good. But they must know it is impossible. They know their kind of activism has zero effect on Russian and Chinese military (imagine Huawei employees sign a letter of this kind, which will never happen). So they are volunteerily sabotage U.S. military to help the Russians and Chineses. I'm not sure how they get their head around.


> I can never understand those protesters

In my opinion, the potential for the technology that microsoft could develop for the military is just as dangerous if not more so than chlorine gas, which was used in WW1.

You should watch this video [1]. It is about Einstein and Fritz Haber (who was the father of chlorine gas). Einstein was horrified at the way Haber was so casual about mass murdering people.

Speaking for myself: I have never and will never work on any weapon technology that is meant for killing other people. If I was at MS and someone asked me to do that I would raise hell like these people and absolutely refuse to do it and quit.

There is no reason or need for an arms race on super high end weaponization of AI between the US, Russia, and China. That is super dangerous and crazy talk. We need peace in this world, not more high tech weapons.

I support the action of the protesters at MS 1000%. Hope that helps you understand them.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jWFe253TYmA


>There is no reason or need for an arms race on super high end weaponization of AI between the US, Russia, and China.

I feel like I'm stating the obvious, and you probably already understand this point, but I'll make it anyway for the sake of advancing the discussion. From the perspective of the world as a whole, an arms race doesn't make sense. From the perspective of any single major player (United States, Russia, China) advancing your own military technology makes sense regardless of if the other players do so; if they do you have MAD (maybe) protecting you from being exploited, if they don't you can exploit them. We can argue that the major players "shouldn't" be trying to exploit each other, but the fact is that they are, and the best defense against exploitation seems to be military power. So it goes.


I understand the desire to not participate in defense technology. But at the same time people need to be realistic about the world we live in.

Peace is a matter of good diplomacy backed by military force. You can be a peaceful nation without having a strong military until a country with a stronger military decides they don't want peace with you. At that point, your sovereignty and safety is at the whim of that other country's might.

The United States is the world's only superpower and as such is a major deterrent against military action from countries like China and Russia. But those countries are actively pursuing technologies that will change the balance of power in their favor. The moment an adversary gains a capability you are unable to counter, that decreases your power of deterrence. If China attained enough capability to be sure they could prevail against the United States in a conflict over Taiwan, they might take the opportunity to mount a first strike. If Russia thought they could forcibly take back their former Soviet satellite states with no pushback they would.

The United States (and it's allies) for all its sins and flaws still stands as a deterrent against the ambitions of several illiberal regimes. It is better to maintain the power of that deterrent by staying ahead of the military technology curve than to ignore nee technologies and get surprised when an adversary develops and uses it against you. We've already sort of seen that with Russia's offensive cyber warfare and social media active measures offensives.


Sure - but it's not like all the world's militaries aren't already using Excel and Word and Powerpoint to enable more effective killing of people - what makes the Hololens game stuff "weaponisation" categorically worse than all of the other military use of Microsoft products?

(well, maybe not Powerpoint - I suspect it doesn't make the military more efficient at their objective either...)


specifics: you can use an iron bar to kill someone, but that doesn’t make an iron bar a weapon.

putting a hololens on a soldier serves only a single purpose: to increase their “lethality” as the US military puts it

i’m certain that if the contract was for medics, there would be no issue


You can use a knife to spread butter on your toast, you can use a pistol to compete at target competition, you can use a shotgun to hunt ducks, you can use an automatic weapon to, ummm, get your jollies at a shooting range or whatever (that's not my preferred source of entertainment, but if someone else enjoys doing that safely and it's not hurting other people, why shouldn't they?). You can use boots to walk in a park, or to walk into battle.

There's a continuum from boots thru iron bars thru to assault rifles. (And, I guess, thru to Predator drones and nuclear weapons.)

I'm questioning just where the hololens fits on that continuum.

I guess selling them to the army makes them "for killing", but is it really "for killing" like an automatic weapon (which many people would choose not to be employed making, and would rightly be upset if their boss sprung that on them)? Or is it more like selling iron bars to the army (which even if they don't directly beat whoever we've always been at war with this week to death, are still obviously going to be used in some small or large part to "increase their lethality" (or at least enable it, I suppose)).

Would it make sense for an iron factory worker to get upset his boss lands a deal with the army and sells them iron bars? The feels kinda precious to me. Sure an end-of-the-bell-curve pacifist could object, but I think most people would say that's about the pacifist rather than the iron factory boss. Would that be different if the iron factory boss was already selling sheet iron and iron filings to the army? I kinda feel it would.

Does it make sense to people who work for the company who makes hololens to protest their boss selling them to the army, when that company is already selling other products (Windows, Word, Excel, pretty much every enterprise MS product) to almost every western military in on the planet? Again, at least to me, it feels kinda precious. It seems like end-of-the-bell-curve pacifism, from people who's living has previously been made working from a company who's _other_ products earn profit from the military, but "my project" is a pure as the driven snow and now all of a sudden I've got blood on my hands...


If I made boots, and the military asked to buy for their soldiers, I would say no. I understand the basic need for a military, and I understand their need for boots. I accept that someone else will supply them with boots instead. But supplying military is not what I want to spend my time and energy on.


Assuming it's not a boondoggle, hololens presumably increases the soldiers efficiency and reduces both friendly and civilian casualties.


Like any tool it'll increase efficienty in achieving the goal - indifferent of whether it's friendly or malicious.


Maybe Powerpoint is a passive-aggresssive weapon, snarling up opponents who might be beguiled into using it?

Like putting sugar in petrol tanks


It's 1943 and Germany has taken over most of Europe and it's looking like Russia might fall as well.

Are you saying you'd never help the Allies develop weapons that might help end the war?


Very poor argument. Today's existential threats are climate change and having too many nukes, not an ongoing world war.


would there have been a Hitler if the US hadn't joined in WW1?

seems to have gone badly to me.


  I can never understand those protesters
I think it's hypocrisy to say that defense/intelligence work is evil but manipulating individuals into giving away their privacy to the entire commercial space is fine and dandy.


> but manipulating individuals into giving away their privacy to the entire commercial space is fine and dandy.

It's only evil when China and Russia do it. Including military stuff.

I'm amused people think the Huawei 5g thing is getting so much push back by 5-eyes countries + Germany is about 'security' instead of unequal access to penetrate networks globally. Mobile networks are the backbone of the modern intelligence community - agencies who are entirely offensive-focused with the odd defensive help to giant companies on the friendslist (by that I mean "information sharing" list to help "detect malware").


I mean, they can both be bad.


I think they are idealists and think they can extricate themselves from realpolitik.

Obviously this is not possible and usually leadership understands this, but occasionally bow to small numbers of activists because they have painted themselves into a corner. I don’t think MS (or Amazon) have done that though.


I agree. I think it may be naivety. There even was a thread here on HN about how saying that the world is fallen is just religious and therefore should be avoided [1]

These people might think human beings are fundamentally good and war is just evil people doing evil things to each other.

But evil is just a reality. People band together to kill others to get what they want unless you kill them or raise a credible threat to kill them in return. This is what war ultimately is.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19210351


I think this is an oversimplification of the reasons people could have for protesting. The military is not just about resolving conflict through material power. It supervises a massive industrial machine which twists our entire country around its values. Dwight D. Eisenhower described the situation in 1961:

> Our military organization today bears little relation to that known by any of my predecessors in peacetime, or indeed by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

> Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

> This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

Stopping this "total influence" from affecting the values of your employer is a separate goal from ending war altogether.


You could have made the same argument about slavery in the 19th century. And today, it's nearly universally accepted as wrong and almost completely eradicated.


> And today, it's nearly universally accepted as wrong and almost completely eradicated.

It's nowhere close to eradicated. The broadest measure of slavery today includes roughly 50 million people. A more narrow figure, that would be similar to the slavery you're referring to, is closer to 10-20 million people.

There are an estimated 7.5 million people in forced labor slavery in fields like construction and mining; 1.7 million in agriculture labor slavery; there are several million women held in sexual slavery, in the sex trafficking trade, across the world.

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-...


As a proportion of the world population the enslaved is still on a downtrend. How many years (which is what I mean by 'almost') do you suppose it will take us to get from 1% or so to 0.01%?


With an important caveat: it’s almost completely eradicated _for now_. Civilizations come and go. Perpetual human progress is only possible if that’s what the strongest group of people want and are willing to fight for it. “Live free or die” wasn’t a cute mantra; it was a rallying cry and a warning.

In the US, slavery was eradicated literally by the sword.

The real genius of the Founding Fathers of the US was their distrust of human nature (and consequent aversion to centralized power).


> With an important caveat: it’s almost completely eradicated _for now_.

That's not even close to true. There are ~30 million slaves worldwide today [1]. I can't find a concise worldwide total for around the time most people imagine is the peak of slavery, at least in the US (1860?), but that was "only" less than 4 million [2].

Whatever point was being made about slavery as an example in this conversation IMO points exactly the opposite way the GP intended: that slavery is a "natural" state for humans to end up in, and it requires continuous effort to prevent it. Just like war.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_the_21st_century#St...

2. https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/slavery/timeline/1860.html


Are you normalizing to the total human population?

So currently 30 million slaves out of a 7 billion population is under a half a percent, compared to 4 million slaves in the us out of a US population of 30 million is almost 7 percent.

I'd say that's an improvement


It seems that ~60 million people are affected by war [1], "only" ~2x as many. So I think that the original point I was making stands: neither slavery nor war are things that humans "grew out of". They both need significant, active effort by people to avoid/contain/resist.

1. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jun/18/5...


And exactly what do you think will happen if one of the countries that doesn't care about slavery overtakes the collective "west" in military might? Do you think China bats an eye at slavery in Africa? Do you think they bat an eye at slavery in North Korea?

Just because it's universally accepted as wrong in the West doesn't mean the rest of the world agrees.


Not sure I see the connection. People who disagreed with slavery just didn't have slaves.

At any rate, what ended slavery in the US? War!


That's true for the us and Haiti and where else?


Another important issue here is that 'evil' and 'good' are very much subjective notions. Most people, including some of the most 'evil' throughout history, were the benevolent heroes of the world from their perspective who, in turn, were doing what was necessary to purge the world of 'evil' and bring in what they'd see as a utopia.

You don't even need to resort to extreme examples that I think go without saying. Things such as China today are a perfect 'moderate' example. Their government, and most people, value a system that 'we' generally consider to be wrong. By contrast they consider our system wrong. Both sides have valid arguments for and against each system. Yet this lack of clarity notwithstanding, both sides would also happily have the entire world embrace their personal interpretation of what ought be done, given the opportunity.

The primary reason that this does not happen in modern times anymore is not because we've become somehow better, more ethical, or inherently more peaceful. In large part it's quite the opposite - we just became too capable of killing one another. Unrestrained war between nuclear nations is a non-starter simply because a single nuclear weapon would be enough to catastrophically damage a country. The nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed hundreds of thousands. By the 1960s Russia had already tested 'Tsar Bomba' [1], a nuke that was on the order of 5,000 times more powerful. And that was testing done at half power simply because full power posed too great a risk of nuclear fallout as well as being impossible to detonate without killing the pilots. Just to emphasize, that was tech developed nearly 60 years ago. We haven't just been twiddling our thumbs since.

Compare our actions in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We destroyed the Afghanistan government and engaged in a lengthy occupation that continues, to a lesser degree, to this very day. This was done because we suspected they might be harboring Bin Laden. They were not. By contrast when we had such suspicions in Pakistan we staged fake vaccinations drives [2] to engage in a mass DNA collection to try to pinpoint Bin Laden's location by collecting DNA of his children. Once his location was confirmed, and he was housed right next to a government training academy, we did a rapid pin-point in and out strike completed in a matter of hours, completely pulled out, and then continued to pay billions to Pakistan in aid. Pakistan has nukes, Afghanistan does not.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsar_Bomba

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_in_Pakistan#Conn...


my understanding is that china doesn't like that the US thinks china needs American permission to do trade through the Pacific ocean, and America doesn't like that china doesn't buy their weapons. the only thing the Americans don't like about China's system is that it's not controlled by the American government/companies. Dictatorships over non-americans aren't exactly a problem with Americans


> So they are volunteerily sabotage U.S. military to help the Russians and Chineses.

They chose to not support the war industry in general, the country is irrelevant. Ultimately, that is all we, as individuals, can do - to participate in something or not, diminishing it by one.


Is there an end to this sort of thinking? And if so, what kind of future does it result in? There's a reason why humanity has collectively agreed to ban chemical and bio weapons in warfare despite how effectively lethal they are.

A future of increasingly automated killing is not a pretty path. And if you believe there is no choice but to go along such a path, I can only say that it's easy to resign yourself to the "inevitable" and harder, much harder, to fight for a better path. I promise you though that brighter futures/timelines do exist and reaching them is very much possible and realistic. All it takes is not immediately giving into cynicism.


You can agree to collectively end something... it doesn't mean all players will play fair. Classification is a thing. Assuming others classify things is a thing. Back to the arms race. It used to be unjust to drop grenades from a plane.


> I can never understand those protesters. If they can sabotage military in all countries, that may be good. But they must know it is impossible.

Every person has his/her own moral values and it is right from their own perspective. If someone did not signup to build something for army, and that is one of his/her values. It would make sense to me that he would refuse so.

And what kind of value it would be if you say I won't keep it until everyone else do the same? That is not a value anymore.

This argument that says "You should do it, because they will do it" is exactly the same argument that worst countries are using to brain wash and turn citizens. What is the difference then?

Secondly, I see some comments are saying: "Perhaps a Chinese/Russian wouldn't want to work with military only because military might build something against China/Russia". NO my friend! Don't make that assumption. I believe it is more likely that the same person wouldn't want to work for China/Russia military either.


There is a difference to objections morally and attempting to have it completely shutdown in the company so no one else can help with what they feel is line with their values. Some believe in protecting and defending their values and freedoms and I'd say most of if not all of those people are anti-war. They know however that if it comes to that; they want their men and women to be better equipped and to hopefully come home safe.

I think this is one thing lost on the protesters.


My assumption is that Google and Microsoft (and everyone else interested in this kind of work) will just do so in secret. There's obviously a social cost here, unfortunately, but companies probably should be more judicious anyway in terms of how they go about staffing these programs.


Your logic is that two wrongs make a right.

We have to stop this arms race.


It would be unwise to stop the arms race when your adversaries are proceeding apace in it. There are only two times it makes sense to withdraw from an arms race.

One is when you sign an enforceable treaty with your rivals. That would be something like START.

Two would be when you know that the arms race is very unlikely to bear fruit. For example, it didn't make sense to keep throwing money at the Star Wars (ballistic missile defense) program because it was very unlikely to succeed.

Military applications for AI could change the global balance of power in a fundamental way. If you care about peace and human rights you don't want the repressive regimes to gain an advantage in that sphere. Because that makes conflict more likely, not less.


I'm sorry, but this is a very naive perspective. And completely chronocentric. The "arms race" started when the first hominid learnt how to throw a rock at his fellow species. Do you really think we are simply going to "end" this arms race?

I don't mean to be snarky, but with the inevitable colonization of space, do you really expect people to just be super awesome peaceful and loving? And not have an arms race?


> So they are volunteerily sabotage U.S. military to help the Russians and Chineses.

Choosing to not do work, or requesting to not do work, that is mostly (entirely?) unrelated to the work you were expecting to be doing at a software company in the US is not "sabotaging" the US military.

It is also no indication of intent to help the Russian or Chinese military. Your words are very nearly slanderous to the protesters, as you have placed a false intent to commit some kind of treason? on them, an intent for which they have shown no evidence of having.


They aren't just choosing to not work on the project, Microsoft said that they will help employees find other projects at the company to work on. The protesters are trying to get public support behind them so Microsoft drops the contract completely, preventing anybody at Microsoft from being able to work on the project, even if they want to.


> The protesters are trying to get public support behind them

So what? Exercising their right to free speech does not "sabotage U.S. military".

> so Microsoft drops the contract completely,

Yes, effecting larger change is the purpose behind most political speech.

These employees are simply exercising their rights to speak their opinions, assemble with other like-minded people, and advocate for their political position to as wider audience in the press. To argue that they somehow don't have these rights denies the long history of SCOTUS decisions that support speech critical of the military or US policy.


> To argue that they somehow don't have these rights denies the long history of SCOTUS decisions that support speech critical of the military or US policy.

I strongly agree.

The employees very clearly have the right to speak their minds, on their time. And they can quit if they disagree with the business path Microsoft ultimately chooses.

Microsoft typically has the right to fire employees if they're not compatible with the business path that Microsoft chooses to pursue.

Overall it's a simple context. Each side has to choose what's most important. Microsoft historically is nowhere near as ideologically driven as Google and other modern Silicon Valley companies, it's obvious what Microsoft will choose to do.


> And they can quit if they disagree with the business path Microsoft ultimately chooses.

Or, they can collectively petition, negotiate, or even apply direct political pressure against their employer.

Is that what the real argument is about here? Lots of fear and anger that if engineers start to gain experience with the power of collective action, they might start to have notions about creating a union?


I don't see how any of this relates to direct sabotage of US military. Again, requesting that your bosses not make a specific sales is not an act of sabotage nor is it in any way aide to Russia or China.

The United States must set positive examples for the world. A country that effectively forces corporations and their employees for the military is fascist. The public pressure for Microsoft to work with the military is disconcerting. Opposing people like the OP make it sound like anyone who holds a differing opinion is mentally ill or something.

This isn't an okay state of affairs.


It's not direct, it's indirect sabotage. As said in OP, tech giants from China and Russia don't have employees protesting military aid just because 'the technology is scary and can do harm'. I also highly doubt the US 'setting an example' will change any of their minds.

If none of the United States tech giants sign with the Government, it's very likely that the US's technology used for an upcoming world war will be inferior to that of the US's enemies.


> tech giants from China and Russia don't have employees protesting military aid just because 'the technology is scary and can do harm'.

Citation needed? How do you know this? And if they don't have that, it seems like they might not have that due to totalitarian rule and a fear of the population to speak opinions. That's not a society we should emulate.

> I also highly doubt the US 'setting an example' will change any of their minds.

Why not? I think that it would. Demonstrating the economic impact of focusing these developments on useful, productive concerns would leave them in the dust. Seems like they would like to keep up? I don't follow your logic.

> If none of the United States tech giants sign with the Government, it's very likely that the US's technology used for an upcoming world war will be inferior to that of the US's enemies.

Again, I disagree and view it as the opposite. Also, if we are so bent on preparing for this future war - without conversation or allowing any kind of other ideas at all - it seems like the war will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


By that logic then this program doesn't make sense because most militarized nations have nukes and which makes ground warfare obsolete(mutually assured destruction).

There might be some sort of justification for it that people don't see(other than jobs) but it's really in bad taste when there's so many other things that should get funding first.


Maybe they are from Russia and China?

How would you feel about working for the military against your own country?

When I agreed to the contract for Google, my contract said ,,don't do evil'', not ,,work for a company that contracts to the US military''


As you go back in time every generation had some practically insurmountable and very clear enemy and 'evil' to overcome. I think this is fairly self evident if we look back before the 20th century. But going beyond that in the 1920s you had the rebuilding and reconstruction following WW1 followed shortly thereafter by the great depression. The 1940s goes without saying - WW2. In the 1960s you had the civil rights movement when people had clear and well defined purposes in getting rid of literally racist laws which had one rule if you had this skin color, and another if you had this skin color - and there was this little problem of a constant fear of nuclear annihilation due to the cold war. The 1980s are where things start to calm down. You had the end of the cold war as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall, but life started becoming pretty fair and pretty safe.

By the 2000s? We certainly don't live in anything like a utopia, but we also live in what is undoubtedly the safest time ever. And while there are still many issues in society, they're becoming ever more difficult to pinpoint in terms of precise solutions. And I think it's safe to say that there will never be a time without issues in societies. People are different and often don't get along. Stick billions of them on a planet and even in systems we could describe as utopia, we'd find a way to not get along.

So the point of this is that I think many people want to find an issue or an enemy to fight against. Augmented reality for military use is hardly controversial and something every single nation around the world will be applying to military purposes. But when you need to find an enemy, any enemy, just to give your life some sort of meaning -- tech that will be applied to help soldiers perform more effectively in combat, which does include killing the enemy, makes a soft target. Whether it's really a logical or reasonable thing to protest against is secondary to the issue that it's something to protest against.


Who's protesting?

Microsoft's employee's.

Why are they protesting?

Because the company mission statement has changed, and they are being drug into a morass of political entanglements they want nothing to do with.

What is their self-interest?

They do not want to be involved on US Military projects, nor do they want to create the weapons systems of tomorrow. That's someone elses job.

I guess their self-interest here must just be "something" to fight for. Being dismissive is not the correct response to what they are doing.


This logic presuppose, that the military status quo is the best it can be and can't be improved. It would be wrong at any point in the past, why is it correct right now?


Ah, so you do understand them, or at least their agitators.


Seriously, if I'm a foreign adversary, I am infiltrating these companies to do two things: steal IP, and spreading company ideals that stop them from working with the US military...and I don't rule that out as something that is happening.

Anyone that thinks if the US suddenly stopped every dime of military spending today would make the world full of rainbows and gumdrops is incredibly naive. I'm glad that Microsoft took this stand.


Here's your understanding.

Maybe you don't work in the US, or come from the US, but are a microsoft employee. Maybe you you do not fully agree with the united states military policies or with their use of technology to further US military objectives and began working for Microsoft because, despite their flaws, you love tech and want to improve the world. Maybe you did not think, like the founding fathers did, that a standing army ought to be needed. Certainly, it's a new age and not every ideal is practical, nor what we think to be practical a good idea.

Whatever the reason, you now have a conflict of interest; a change in the corporate mission statement and identity that is sudden and significant.

Furthermore, suppose you do work on the Hololens project. You wake up in the morning to find out the knowledge in your head is now national-security critical, which means your head is now US Government property and you will be subject to a mandatory gook risk assessment. This will affect your ability to travel, send funds abroad, contact family abroad, whom you may be employed by, and all sorts of other requirements you did not sign up for upto and including special conditions delivered by the G-Men themselves to you and if you refuse you, like many others, may become a disappeared persons statistic.

You did not apply for security clearance, and you have not been paid for the privilage. Perhaps you were a H1B working on that project who's H1B was ended by it.

There's a long tradition of companies making a great consumer product, and the military hiring the willing staff or convincing the principal architect of the need, and making a great military weapon. What's going on here is people are being drafted.

Good, creative IT people are hard to come by and they are pretty opinionated about not producing monstrosities because they are more capable than anyone of imagining how those weapons can be abused. Windows, Azure, and Office are all stagnating, dieing technologies at this point; Satya is looking for future revenue 5-10 years out.

Microsoft has to play a certain amount of politics and be in the right circles to be allowed to do things like buy Github or Linkedin, both of which given their history of abusing labor they ought not to have been allowed to do. This problem is not something that is going to go away, and alienating your engineering staff is a great way to lose experienced, critical engineers to competitiors and even foreign governments. Satya is playing with fire.


Just because you can't voice dissent in some countries doesn't mean it's okay to not support it. You can choose a side but shutting voices down is objectively wrong.


There is no such thing as "objectively wrong". Please do elaborate on this. We as a tribe/culture/country/etc can come to an agreement amongst ourselves about what "wrong" is, but that is all.


You're okay with your voice and POV being muffled. I consider it a basic inalienable right to speak my mind.


Honestly, I agree with Nadella here. They built a technology which happens to be useful to the military (and has many, more numerous, non-military applications), and the military (understandably) wanted to use it.

Protesting selling Hololens to the military here is like protesting contributing to Linux because the US DoD uses it. Should we all boycott Linux because of the lack of an anti-military-use clause in the GPL?


Is the contract simply "selling Hololens to the military"? My understanding was that they already had contracts in place to sell them to the military for training purposes and have done so for many years. I was under the impression from other articles that the employees are upset over the request for "targeting ... capabilities" to be embedded into the devices.

Edit: Upon reading their 'letter' it appears they take most issue with the use of Hololens to 'increase lethality'. I would argue that even the use of Hololens for training purposes (as they have done so in the past) would increase lethality anyway (as training of any kind might) and they apparently had no issue with it before. Even then, the military doesn't need Microsoft to do it, they could pay any of their contractors to implement it.


yup exactly: if it was for medics, there would be no problem


"We made a principled decision that we're not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy"

I wonder what Virtual Reality glasses Microsoft-ceo Satya Nadella was wearing when implicitly denying the existence of the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military%E2%80%93industrial_co...


Little do the protesters know that the actual tools of war are PowerPoint and Word.

No mission is launched without first planning and revising using those tools.


It's interesting that some on this thread have raised the problem that protesting military technology hampers you compared to your potential adversaries. This is a topic covered in-depth in Dan Carlin's Hardcore History episode "Destroyer of Worlds" [1], which talked about the development of nuclear weapons after WWII.

One point of contention was the morality of developing the hydrogen bomb and people will ask the question "what if our enemies have it and we don't?"

On the other hand, anyone having a particular capability greatly increases the chances that everyone will have it. The US thought the Soviets would take 20 years to develop the atomic bomb. It took 4 years thanks in no small part to espionage efforts by the USSR. Part of the reason why this worked is people who didn't want a world where only the US had nuclear weapons. It would be too dangerous.

So for any military tech that US companies develop consider how likely that is to stay in their hands and not be stolen by China.

On a personal level I support employees holding their employers accountable. If you think you're absolved of moral responsibility for what the company does let me ask you this: why then aren't the lawyers who work for patent trolls or the price gouging executives at Big Pharma or those who worked for Big Tobacco?

[1] https://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-59-the-destroyer-...


>It took 4 years thanks in no small part to espionage efforts by the USSR. Part of the reason why this worked is people who didn't want a world where only the US had nuclear weapons. It would be too dangerous.

I believe the technical term for these kinds of people is "useful idiots". How exactly was the world made a safer place by Joseph Stalin having a nuclear bomb?

Try this thought experiment, at the end of WWII the Soviets have the bomb and the United States does not. Does Russia wait 20 years for the US to develop the bomb? Or do they attack as soon as the are able?

Which part of Stalin's morality guides his decision?


> How exactly was the world made a safer place by Joseph Stalin having a nuclear bomb?

Consider that General McArthur was advocating nuclear strikes into China in order to change the course of the Korean War. Would that have been vetoed at Presidential level if only the USA had nukes?

And what would the USSR have done in 1962 in response to US nuclear Jupiter missiles being deployed in Turkey and Italy? Instead of countering with missiles on Cuba they'd probably have been provoked to attack.


If the US only had nukes in the Korean War, they might not have needed to use them. China would probably have backed off at a stern warning. Something like "That big troop concentration heading for the border? In 12 hours, they better be further away, or they all die."

And in 1962, if the US has nukes and Russia doesn't, that's going to provoke Russia to launch an attack? "These people have weapons way bigger than we do, so let's attack them?" No. That's insane. Khrushchev wasn't insane.


I'm sorry, but why is no one commenting on the fact that 100 employees signed? A quick search shows that Microsoft has 134k employees (not sure if that includes contractors). but less than .1% of employees signed. All these media headlines say "employees" like its a significant fraction, but its 100 employees according to the article. To me it seems like media grabbing at a headline that would generate clicks.


Social Credit Kill List [1]

> In 2014, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden said in a public debate, “We kill people based on metadata.”

> According to multiple reports and leaks, death-by-metadata could be triggered, without even knowing the target’s name, if too many derogatory checks appear on their profile. “Armed military aged males” exhibiting suspicious behavior in the wrong place can become targets, as can someone “seen to be giving out orders.” Such mathematics-based assassinations have come to be known as “signature strikes.”

1. https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/how-...


"We made a principled decision that we're not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy..."

Wow! This is really a nice way to present his argument, which captures how I feel about this issue.


Though there are important issues with protesting, right to work, and ethics that are being brought up, the technology is not all that new. The DoD has had similar capabilities to the Hololens for nearly 15 years at this point, almost 80 if you think of HUDs as a general idea.

The BraveMind [0][1] project has been around sine ~2005 and has been shown to help with PTSD. USC's work with the DoD has even been shown on PBS's Frontline[2].

HUDs themselves, arguably a primitive form of AR tech like the Hololens, have been around since the early bomber sights of WW2[3]. I'm sure we all remember Top Gun's use of HUDs.

Honestly, from a tech perspective, the Hololens is only innovative due to it's size, weight, and customer support. The DoD generally proclaims preference for Off-The-Shelf parts and equipment due to many factors. The Hololens is just an iteration of an idea and procurement process that has long been in use.

[0]http://ict.usc.edu/prototypes/pts/

[1]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dVmxmDFCMlQ

[2]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRL0TzrNtVc

[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head-up_display


Either you're in the war business or you aren't. It's a genuine choice.


Hololens found its killer app.


Did they protest Flight Simulator?


Or Office?


What about Bob?


if this whole "we're cool now!" pr schtick is gonna work, i think they need to back it off a bit.

it's a little bit much....

can't they come up with a new and fresh identity to try and attract employees and developers rather than s/goog/us/? it seems a little... obvious? (and perhaps counterproductive?)




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