Is Microsoft helping US military gamify warfare with new HoloLens contract?

Monday April 5th 2021 by SocraticDev

An important deal between Microsoft and the Pentagon validates the Augmented Reality (AR) importance for the future. It is a contract where Microsoft promises to deliver "more than 120,000 devices based on its HoloLens augmented reality headset. The contract is estimated to be worth around $21 billions over a 10 years span. This contract comes a year and a half after Microsoft won a $10 billion contract for an Azure cloud contract from the Pentagon.

The device provides 'augmented reality' and not 'virtual reality'. It means that the wearer still sees and interacts with the real world. But can see, overlaid in his field of vision, extra information such as maps, compass, thermal imaging revealing people in the dark, etc.

According to Alex Kipman, technical fellow at Microsoft who had presented the HoloLens in 2015, the system coupled with Azure cloud services provides :

  • enhanced situational awareness
  • better information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios

US military intends to equip its foot soldiers with the device in training, rehearsing and actual fight settings.

A fraction of Microsoft workforce, Microsoft Workers 4 Good, opposes the project stating they didn't sign up to build lethal weapon systems for the military. In a public letter they added another feature to the new AR device :

  • increased lethality

The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warfare into a simulated "video game", further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.

On the other hand, proponents of the system claims the system will help save lives by providing better training and information for soldiers to stay safe and prevent the killing of civilians.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, stated that the Redmond giant will not 'withhold technology' from democratic governements.

"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"
-- Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO