Microsoft employees on Friday posted an open letter protesting the company’s bid on the Pentagon’s $10 billion cloud computing contract, named JEDI. The letter accuses Microsoft of betraying its artificial intelligence (AI) principles for short-term profits.
JEDI, which stands for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, is a 10-year deal with the Department of Defense (DoD) to provide cloud services for all branches of the military.
The letter cited these principles based a blog published by Microsoft earlier this year — which detailed the dangers of AI and called for ethical development and deployment of the technology. The employees said that because of the secrecy surrounding the specific applications of JEDI, there is no way to determine “whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing.”
In addition, citing comments from President Donald Trump and DoD Chief Management Officer John Gibson, employees made it clear that they did want to be a part of a program that increased the lethality of the DoD. “This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building a ‘more lethal’ military force overseen by the Trump Administration.”
The letter was published just hours before the contract’s Oct. 12 deadline, but Microsoft submitted its bid anyway. A spokesperson for the company told The Telegraph that it submitted its proposal by the deadline. “While we don’t have a way to verify the authenticity of this letter, we always encourage employees to share their views with us,” the spokesperson said.
This protest follows similar ones from other cloud providers competing for the contract.
IBM said that the contact’s main flaw was that it would lock the military into a single cloud provider for 10 years. Sam Gordy, general manager of IBM U.S. Federal, wrote in a blog post that “No business in the world would build a cloud the way JEDI would and then lock in to it for a decade,” and that the Pentagon should reconsider having a single provider. IBM still intended to submit a proposal.
For the same reason, Oracle also filed a pre-award protest, saying that the contract shouldn’t be awarded to a single company.
On the Tuesday before the deadline, Google withdrew its bid for the contact as it couldn’t be sure that JEDI would align with its AI principles. It also conceded that certain aspects of the contract were not within the scope of Google’s government certifications.
Amazon and Microsoft are both considered frontrunners to win the JEDI deal as the two companies have higher levels of government cloud security authorizations. Last week, Microsoft made significant upgrades to Azure to bolster its government cloud support.
Additionally Microsoft has a history of government work. Earlier this year it scored an IT modernization deal with the U.S. Air Force; and alongside Dell Technologies, Microsoft won a cloud contract with the U.S. Intelligence community.
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