How Microsoft Defended its $10Bn JEDI Bid Exactly a Year ago


Beating frontrunner Amazon, Microsoft on Friday won the lucrative $10 billion Cloud-computing contract from the US Department of Defense known as "JEDI", the short-form for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud project.

Exactly a year ago -- on October 25, 2018 -- the software giant's CEO Satya Nadella addressed ethical concerns surrounding the supply of technology to the military.

While the size of the project evoked interest from the technology giants in the US -- with Oracle, IBM and Google also joining Microsoft and Amazon in the bidding process spanning nearly two years -- employees of some of these organisations raised objections to helping defence forces become more lethal.

In fact, Google dropped out of the bidding for JEDI in October last year. The tech giant last year decided not to renew a Pentagon project called Maven after thousands of its employees signed a petition demanding "a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology."

Following this, Google launched ethical principles for Artificial Intelligence (AI) and claimed that these principles conflicted with the JEDI project.

After Google exited the project, an open letter claiming to be from an unspecified number of Microsoft employees urged the tech giant to also back out of the military project. But Microsoft stuck to its principle of supplying its technology to the US military.

In the Q&A session with employees last year, Nadella, who earned $42.9 million in total compensation for the fiscal year 2019 -- 66 per cent raise from the prior fiscal year, was joined by Microsoft President Brad Smith.

The two top Microsoft executives said that the company decided to pursue the JEDI project, which aims to re-engineer the US Defense Department's end-to-end IT infrastructure, from the Pentagon to field-level support of the country's servicemen and women, given the company's longstanding support for Pentagon.

"All of us who live in this country depend on its strong defence. The people who serve in our military work for an institution with a vital role and critical history," Smith said in a blog post that detailed what transpired in the meeting.

"We believe in the strong defence of the US and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation's best technology, including from Microsoft," Smith said.

"We don't ask or expect everyone who works at Microsoft to support every position the company takes. We also respect the fact that some employees work in, or may be citizens of, other countries, and they may not want to work on certain projects.

"As is always the case, if our employees want to work on a different project or team -- for whatever reason -- we want them to know that we support talent mobility," he added.

Microsoft has worked with the Department of Defense on a longstanding and reliable basis for four decades.

"You'll find Microsoft technology throughout the American military, helping power its front office, field operations, bases, ships, aircraft and training facilities. We are proud of this relationship, as we are of the many military veterans we employ," the Microsoft President wrote in the blog post.

Source: IANS