Microsoft bids on JEDI, declares commitment to DOD tech

Company president Brad Smith stood up for Microsoft's four-decade commitment to the Department of Defense, but also said that the company would proactively engage in conversations about ethical AI.

Microsoft bid on the Pentagon's $10 billion single-source cloud deal dubbed JEDI -- for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure.

The bid is no surprise to anyone watching the twists and turns of the controversial procurement. But what's interesting is the bid was announced in an Oct. 26 blog post by Microsoft president Brad Smith that both defended the company's four-decade relationship with the Department of Defense and asserted that Microsoft would be in the forefront of conversations about the ethical use of artificial intelligence in warfighting.

"We want the people of this country and especially the people who serve this country to know that we at Microsoft have their backs," Smith wrote. "They will have access to the best technology that we create."

The post comes in response to a move by an unidentified group of Microsoft employees who urged the company to forego a bid on JEDI, in part because of concerns about lethal applications of AI – an ethical issue that is sparking debate across the technology industry.

"If Microsoft is to be accountable for the products and services it makes, we need clear ethical guidelines and meaningful accountability governing how we determine which uses of our technology are acceptable, and which are off the table," the employees wrote in an open letter to the company.

In his post, Smith said he talked about the ethics of supplying the military with digital technology at a regularly scheduled employee event.

"We want to use our knowledge and voice as a corporate citizen to address these in a responsible way through the country’s civic and democratic processes," Smith wrote. He added that sitting out such procurements would "reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way."

While Smith looked to strike a thoughtful tone on the future of AI applications in warfare, he also hit on the company's long history as a DOD vendor.

"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," he wrote.

Bids on the JEDI procurement were due Oct. 12. On or before Nov. 14, the Government Accountability Office is expected to decide a protest on JEDI from Oracle, which alleges that the solicitation was purpose built for a single vendor. Another protest from IBM is due to be decided in January.

Additionally, the procurement has caught the attention of some leading House appropriators, who are looking for the DOD Inspector General to investigate how defense officials settled upon the final set of requirements for the single-cloud project.

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