The conversationApril 7, 2021 10:40:23 AM IST
Microsoft has reportedly received a 10-year contract worth close to $ 22 billion to provide 120,000 military-grade augmented reality (AR) headsets to the US Army.
Popularized through mobile applications such as Pokemon go and face filters on social media, AR technology is fundamentally about superimposing digital images on real world environments.
The AR interface commissioned by the US military is known as an “Integrated Visual Augmentation System” (IVAS). It will use Microsoft’s HoloLens headset technology as the base hardware.
Like the army Press release notes, the device will be used to coordinate soldiers and implement detection technologies on the battlefield.
Features will purportedly include thermal sensors, machine learning (to create realistic training simulations), and a digital head-up display to enhance soldiers’ “situational awareness.”
The news follows Microsoft’s earlier announcement of a $ 480 million military contract to develop and supply IVAS prototypes to the military in 2018.
Between this old contract, the new one and Microsoft’s $ 10 billion of JEDI cloud computing contract for Azure, Microsoft is ready to strengthen its position as one of the highest value U.S. defense contractors (along with Amazon).
The relationship between the RA and war is not new
AR interfaces first emerged in the 1960s with Ivan Sutherland’s demonstration of the Sword of Damocles tracking system. This was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory, funded by the US Department of Defense.
The head-mounted display, the first of its kind, was designed for use in simulating instruments and flight conditions.
Fast forward to the mid-80s and the Lincoln Lab produced the American manufacturer of AR Kopin. In 1990 this trading company received a $ 50 million contract Department of Defense to develop LCD microscreens for use in infantry laptops.
Augmented reality continues to be accepted today, in a trend that the geographer Stephen Graham It is referred to as the “militarization” of everyday life. And this is especially notable with the technologies that govern urban societies.
The Vuzix technology company is a major player in the security and business sector. As their annual report states, the company develops products for “clients of government entities that primarily provide security and defense services, including police, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, other first responders, and national and border security.”
This controversial company trains its artificial intelligence software on a data set of more than three billion images from websites like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. His marriage to Vuzix points to a future where law enforcement officers use wearable AR with built-in facial recognition capbilites.
The use of AR to govern everyday life also emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, companies like Rokid and KC Wearables have developed wearable devices that claim to track the body temperature of people in view of the device user.
What’s wrong with Microsoft’s AR?
We know little about the current prototyping and field testing of Microsoft’s IVAS. But the interface raises the same concerns that surround other technologies designed to proactively target and classify potential “threats,” such as drones.
Like the US Army. Objectives of the IVAS Read, the key results are increased mobility, situational awareness, and lethality – that is, lethality on the battlefield. The document says:
Soldier lethality will be vastly improved through advanced sensing and cognitive training, allowing squads to be the first to detect, decide, and participate. Accelerated development of these capabilities is necessary to regain and maintain overmatch.
The objectives are framed around the efficiency, coordination and security of the soldiers. This is similar to the usual framing of other predictive sensing technologies, including facial recognition.
However, the reality is that there would be potentially disastrous results if such a system misidentified a target. In a 2019 CNN interviewMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella tried to downplay the concerns.
“We made a principled decision that we are not going to deny technology to the institutions that we have chosen in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” he said. His statement did not acknowledge the potential risk that can result from the use of AR by the military.
it is not a kid’s game
Following Microsoft’s initial IVAS contract in 2018, Microsoft employees wrote a lyrics to company executives who oppose the use of the RA for war.
On behalf of Microsoft workers, we are launching an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, demanding the cancellation of the IVAS contract with a call for stricter ethical guidelines.
If you are a Microsoft employee, you can log in to: https://t.co/958AhvIHO5 pic.twitter.com/uUZ5P4FJ7X
– Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@ MsWorkers4) February 22, 2019
While the letter itself was ineffective, the recent increase in collectives worker resistance in Silicon Valley it shows promise. More strikes and strikes in response to unethical developments could help reject selfish visions of the future of big technology.
Like virtual reality, AR has so far enjoyed critical coverage as a benign gaming or entertainment technology.
The latest IVAS contract is an urgent reminder that developments in this technology must be taken seriously. And its harmful potential should not be downplayed.
Ben Egliston, Postdoctoral Researcher, Center for Digital Media Research, Queensland University of Technology and Marcus Carter, Senior Lecturer in Digital Cultures, SOAR Fellow., University of Sydney