Big Tech Pushes Toward Defense. Engineers Push Back.


Profiled article

T. Romm and D. Harwell, “Microsoft workers call for canceling military contract for technology that could turn warfare into a ‘video game’”, Washington Post, 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 29- Mar- 2019].

About the article author

Tony Romm and Drew Harwell are technology reporters for The Washington Post.


Microsoft recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with the U.S Department of Defense, prompting backlash from inside the company. The new HoloLens, an augmented reality headset originally designed for video games, is now to be used in training and combat scenarios. An open letter penned by more than 50 Microsoft employees calls for executives to cancel the contract, worried this powerful technology could escalate warfare and turn soldiers into killing machines. In response, Microsoft’s president Brad Smith argued that weapons technology will develop more safely if tech experts are involved than if they “withdraw from the conversation.”
Other tech companies are facing a similar dilemma; last year, Google cancelled a contract with the Pentagon due to internal pressure. As Silicon Valley engineers and their CEOs break politically, should big tech reconsider its pivot into defense?


Whether Microsoft gets involved in defense contracting is for its executives to decide. However, the engineers that work on projects like HoloLens should be given that choice, too. By initially marketing the HoloLens to gamers and artists, executives tricked their engineers into unwittingly putting their time and expertise into a mechanism of war. As the letter stated, Microsoft’s lack of transparency turned unwilling employees and shareholders into war profiteers.

Related Links

To read the open letter in full

For more on Google’s similar internal schism