All posts in “Hololens”

Microsoft says it has democratic responsibility to accept lucrative military contract

Microsoft agreed to take hundreds of millions of dollars to help soldiers kill — but don’t worry, the company’s CEO says it’s for the sake of democracy.

On Monday at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona, Nadella told CNN Business that Microsoft would continue developing HoloLens augmented reality (AR) technology for the U.S. military, despite employee protests. He couched the decision in terms of his corporation’s duty to support the government.

“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,” Nadella told CNN Business.

Nadella was at MWC unveiling the next generation of its AR headset, the HoloLens 2. The device allows wearers to view the outside world layered with AR objects and applications.

But just one day prior, a group of Microsoft employees published an open letter to Nadella and Microsoft President Brad Smith demanding that this technology not be used in military applications.

In November 2018, the U.S. military awarded Microsoft a $479 million contract to develop an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). That means Microsoft was tasked with creating ways the military could use the HoloLens on the battlefield.

The stated objective of the contract, per government documents, is to “rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform” that would provide “increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness.” Or, as the Microsoft employees put it, “to help soldiers kill.”

For letter writers and signees, this contract “crossed the line.” They do not want to be in the business of weapons development. They also believe that the contract unfairly impacts the employees who developed the HoloLens in the first place, who might not want to see their work used in war. 

“As employees and shareholders, we do not want to become war profiteers,” the letter concludes. “To that end, we believe that Microsoft must stop in its activities to empower the US Army’s ability to cause harm and violence.”

According to a Twitter update from the group that issued the letter, Microsoft Workers for Good, over 250 employees have signed.

Nadella responded to these moral objections with a big, fat “nope.” Microsoft will forge ahead with the IVAS contract.

Somewhat surprisingly, Nadella is also claiming the moral high ground in his decision.

“It’s not about taking arbitrary action by a single company, it’s not about 50 people or 100 people or even 100,000 people in a company,” Nadella said. “It’s really about being a responsible corporate citizen in a democracy.”

According to Nadella, a corporation’s responsibility is to support government institutions; in this case, the military, which “protects the freedoms we enjoy.”

In fact, it is a corporation’s duty to pay taxes and follow the law. Any duty beyond that is one of philosophy, not fact. 

Of course, Microsoft has another reason to develop technology for the military. 

Tech workers are increasingly facing the reality that the companies they’re working for aren’t necessarily “doing good” (as many have previously claimed). Subsequently, they’ve raised objections both internally and in public. Google employees have protested Google’s work on a Chinese search engine that could aid the Chinese government’s surveillance efforts, and impede freedom of information for its citizens. Amazon workers objected to the sale of facial recognition technology to law enforcement. In the cases of these leading tech giants — Google, Microsoft, and Amazon — employee principles are standing in the way of cash from morally murky government contracts.

And where the CEOs stand is usually clear. Nadella and Smith at Microsoft, and CEO Sundar Pichai at Google, say they value employee feedback. But both parties then go on to cite their own moral duties (in the case of Pichai, it was enabling freedom of information in China). And then, they end up right back where they started: accepting lucrative government contracts with no guarantee they won’t be used to curtail freedoms or even kill people. 

Is it a corporation’s duty (or “responsibility”) to support government institutions in a democracy? 

The concept isn’t necessarily abhorrent, especially if you’re working on technology that — when deployed by government institutions such as health departments —can actually help people. But the U.S. military specifically wanted to increase “lethality.” Nadella could have walked away; instead, he took the money and portrayed it as an obligation. The end result could be Microsoft profiting from the violence of war. 

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Microsoft announces HoloLens 2

Mobile World Congress is primarily a show for new phone announcements, but Microsoft showed rolled up to Barcelona with HoloLens 2.

The new headset is sleeker-looking, more comfortable, and more powerful. But most importantly, HoloLens 2 has a much wider field of view (FOV) for greater mixed reality immersion. Microsoft says the new headset has more than double the FOV of the original HoloLens.

Microsoft says the improved FOV is a quantum leap forward…”like going from two 720p resolution screens in each eye to 2K resolution in each eye.”

This story is developing…

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Say hello to Microsoft’s new $3,500 HoloLens with twice the field of view

Microsoft unveiled the latest version of its HoloLens ‘mixed reality’ headset at MWC Barcelona today. The new HoloLens 2 features a significantly larger field of view, higher resolution and a device that’s more comfortable to wear. Indeed, Microsoft says the device is three times as comfortable to wear (though it’s unclear how Microsoft measured this).

Later this year, HoloLens 2 will be available in the United States, Japan, China, Germany, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Australia and New Zealand for $3,500.

One of the knocks against the original HoloLens was its limited field of view. When whatever you wanted to look at was small and straight ahead of you, the effect was striking. But when you moved your head a little bit or looked at a larger object, it suddenly felt like you were looking through a stamp-sized screen. HoloLens 2 features a field of view that’s twice as large as the original.

“Kinect was the first intelligent device to enter our homes,” HoloLens chief Alex Kipman said in today’s keynote, looking back the the device’s history. “It drove us to create Microsoft HoloLens. […] Over the last few years, individual developers, large enterprises, brand new startup have been dreaming up beautiful things, helpful things.”

The HoloLens was always just as much about the software as the hardware, though. For HoloLens, Microsoft developed a special version of Windows, together with a new way of interacting with the AR objects through gestures like air tap and bloom. In this new version, the interaction is far more natural and lets you tap objects. The device also tracks your gaze more accurately to allow the software to adjust to where you are looking.

“HoloLens 2 adapts to you,” Kipman stressed. “HoloLens 2 evolves the interaction model by significantly advancing how people engage with holograms.”

In its demos, the company clearly emphasized how much faster and fluid the interaction with HoloLens applications becomes when you can use slides, for example, by simply grabbing the slider and moving it, or by tapping on a button with either a finger or two or with your full hand. Microsoft event built a virtual piano that you can play with ten fingers to show off how well the HoloLens can track movement. The company calls this ‘instinctual interaction.’

Microsoft first unveiled the HoloLens concept at a surprise event on its Redmond campus back in 2015. After a limited, invite-only release that started days after the end of MWC 2016, the device went on sale to everybody in August  2016. Four years is a long time between hardware releases, but the company clearly wanted to seed the market and give developer a chance to build the first set of HoloLens applications on a stable platform.

To support developers, Microsoft is also launching a number of Azure services for HoloLens today. These include spatial anchors and remote rendering to help developers stream high-polygon content to HoloLens.

It’s worth noting that Microsoft never positioned the device as consumer hardware. I may have shown off the occasional game, but its focus was always on business applications, with a bit of educational applications thrown in, too. That trend continued today. Microsoft showed off the ability to have multiple people collaborate around a single hologram, for example. That’s not new, of course, but goes to show how Microsoft is positioning this technology.

For these enterprises, Microsoft will also offer the ability to customize the device.

“When you change the way you see the world, you change the world you see,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said, repeating a line from the company’s first HoloLens announcement four years ago. He noted that he believes that connecting the physical world with the virtual world will transform the way we will work.

Watch Microsoft unveil the HoloLens 2 live right here

Microsoft is set to announce a brand new hardware device at MWC in Barcelona — the new HoloLens headset. The conference starts at 6:00 PM CET (5:00 AM GMT, 12:00 PM ET, 9:00 AM PT).

[embedded content]

If you’ve ever tried the HoloLens, you know that this it is a magical device. But Microsoft quickly realized that it had more potential for industrial use cases. It is now positioned as a B2B device.

Let’s see what Microsoft has in mind with the second-generation HoloLens. The company is also going to talk about its mobile strategy when it comes to apps and services on iOS and Android.

You can check it out live via Microsoft’s official stream above, and stay tuned on TechCrunch.com for ongoing coverage of all the news coming out of MWC.

Microsoft workers push back against using HoloLens for U.S. military training

Some Microsoft employees feel the company’s business entanglements with the U.S. military aren’t OK, and they want the bosses to know about it.

An open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith from Microsoft Workers 4 Good makes the position of protesting employees clear: “We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression,” the letter begins.

Specifically at issue is a $479 million “Integrated Visual Augmentation System” contract that Microsoft entered into back in Nov. 2018. As the letter notes, the intent is for the company to “rapidly develop, test, and manufacture a single platform that soldiers can use to Fight, Rehearse, and Train that provides increased lethality, mobility, and situational awareness” against America’s foes.

According to the letter, to meet the terms of IVAS, as the contract is referred to in shorthand, Microsoft is putting its augmented reality platform, HoloLens, to work. Protesting employees believe this “crossed the line” into weapons development.

“The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill,” the letter reads. “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.”

These employees take issue with Microsoft’s U.S. military commitments, but the bigger problem laid out in the letter is how the company has handled dissent when it comes to those commitments. People who don’t want to do military work are given the option of doing something else inside the company.

That doesn’t solve anything, the letter says. Shuffling employees around “ignores the problem that workers are not properly informed of the use of their work. There are many engineers who contributed to HoloLens before this contract even existed, believing it would be used to help architects and engineers build buildings and cars, to help teach people how to perform surgery or play the piano, to push the boundaries of gaming, and to connect with the Mars Rover (RIP).”

Employees signing the letter have three demands:

1. Cancel the IVAS contract;

2. Cease developing any and all weapons technologies, and draft a public-facing acceptable use policy clarifying this commitment;

3. Appoint an independent, external ethics review board with the power to enforce and publicly validate compliance with its acceptable use policy.

A BBC report notes that “at least 50 Microsoft employees” are already on board with the demands. That’s only a fraction of a fraction of the company’s 130,000-plus workers, to be fair. But there’s been a lot of scrutiny in recent years around tech interests partnering up with the U.S. military, and the letter only first surfaced on Friday.

A Microsoft spokesperson told the BBC: “We always appreciate feedback from employees and have many avenues for employee voices to be heard.”

Microsoft has been teasing a second-generation HoloLens in recent weeks, and is expected to deliver a first look at the new tech on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. ET, during an event at the annual Mobile World Congress. With a press blitz presumably about to kick off, the timing of this letter and the concerns it raises may put Microsoft on the defensive as its unveiling a brand new product.

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