Several weeks ago, Google workers successfully got the company to not renew its contract with the Pentagon around the development of artificial intelligence technologies for drone warfare — a surprising victory, and a demonstration that such struggles have room to continue to grow and move into more radical directions.
Now, a similar struggle appears to be developing at Microsoft, where workers are vocally upset at the company’s contract with ICE. This contract isn’t new, but the current political mood has shifted drastically into one of disgust and anger at the Trump administration’s policies around family separation and child detention at the border, and so its an opportune time to shed light on one’s company’s connections with odious institutions. And as discussed in the case of Google, this is also an opportunity for Microsoft workers to push for workers’ control, as argued in this piece from Notes From Below from Wendy Liu, a former Google worker, which dives deeper into issues of engineering ethics and worker power.
It is interesting to examine how the two struggles reveal particular contours of contemporary imperialism. Project Maven is about drone warfare, which is primarily taking place across the Greater Middle East (North Africa to South-West Asia), in areas that have been drawn into the increasingly flailing and unending War on Terror. The Azure-ICE contract is about immigration and border control, whose main hot-spot is at the US-Mexico border, where people are attempting to flee northwards away from gang warfare and generalized social decay, which is in no small part due to the effects of US-backed militarization and free trade policies. The infrastructure that keeps imperialist violence in operation in these areas is sprawling and monstrous, far beyond the scope of tech contracts. But nonetheless, the fact that tech workers are struggling to deny the Pentagon access to cutting-edge AI tech, and ICE access to advanced cloud-computing, should be a good morale boost for all.