Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, pledged in a blog post late last week that the company will “proactively” engage with the Federal government to “advocate for policies and laws that will ensure that AI [artificial intelligence] and other new technologies are used responsibly and ethically.”

The company did not detail the positions it might offer, but said, “already, we’re talking with experts to help inform us and address these issues.”

Smith’s Oct. 26 blog post did not mention Google by name, but referenced debate in recent months about how and whether tech companies should supply digital technologies to the U.S. military. Earlier this year, Google decided not to renew a contract with the Department of Defense to work on Project Maven and the use of AI to interpret video images in order to improve targeting capabilities. Numerous Google employees had earlier signed a petition objecting to the company’s work on the project.

Smith said Microsoft wants the military to have “access to the nation’s best technology.” And he said that while the company appreciates “the important new ethical and policy issues that artificial intelligence is creating for weapons and warfare,” Microsoft wants 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.”

He also said that if Microsoft employees object to working on certain projects, they may be able to find work in other parts of the company.

“We believe that the debate about the role of the tech sector and the military in this country has sometimes missed two fundamental points,” Smith said. “First, we believe that the people who defend our country need and deserve our support. And second, to withdraw from this market is to reduce our opportunity to engage in the public debate about how new technologies can best be used in a responsible way.”

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.