Unity employees demand better transparency over military contracts

Some staff are unaware they are potentially developing military technology

Several Unity employees have spoken out in a report about the company’s numerous military contracts.

The report published by Vice yesterday (August 23) details how Unity employees are potentially working on military contracts without being told. Unity, which is one of the biggest game development platforms globally, works with the United States government on military contracts.

According to internal Unity documents obtained by Vice, senior management is struggling to explain why employees are creating technologies that could be used in military scenarios. Worryingly, some staff may develop technologies that are directly used in combat without being aware. This implies that some staff may play an active role in developing tools that could cause harm to other humans.

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Unity internally attempted to downplay the contracts by changing how management and senior staff refer to them. In an internal memo titled ‘GovTech Projects – Communication Protocol,’ the company told staff to refer to the contracts as government and not military with internal and external stakeholders. The memo states: “We need to be sensitive to the various values & beliefs which people perceive our engagement with the Government, specifically DoD [Department of Defense].”

The memo also details how Unity’s work with the Department Of Defense is focused on how AI can improve training and simulations. It adds that none of the technology developed by staff will “be used in live warfighting.” Unity also mentions that its work with the DoD is dictated by its own ethical principles, which the department outlined in a press release last year.

Valheim
Valheim is developed in Unity Credit: Iron Gate Studio

Staff have internally criticised the lack of transparency. One member of staff who spoke to Vice said it wasn’t always clear what staff were working on: “Most Unity AI work empowers other government projects, so in this way it can be difficult to gauge one’s contribution to government projects.”

Another staff member anonymously said Unity should be clearer in what the contracts are for: “It should be very clear when people are stepping into the military initiative part of Unity.” One member of staff commented on how the team members shouldn’t need philosophy degrees to work at Unity: “Many of my fellow employees are very talented engineers or artists, but I don’t think that experience necessarily prepares us to be successful in passively identifying the complex repercussions of advancing certain emerging technologies.”

AI and machine learning is a growing element of military defence efforts across the world. The US was criticised last year after a panel of United Nations experts concluded that the country had used an AI-controlled drone to ‘hunt down and remotely engage’ soldiers fighting for Libyan general Khalifa Haftar. This led to a global debate at the United Nations about using AI drones and potential restrictions. While Unity has explicitly stated that none of the technology it develops will be used in “live warfighting”, staff still might feel uneasy when seeing how the U.S. military intends to use AI.

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Unity responded to Vice’s report with a statement that one of its goals is to “have applications outside of gaming” and that its contract with the U.S. Military “is not new”. Unity also stated that the work it does with the Department Of Defense does not “knowingly violate our principles or values”, one of which is that work done “does not directly involve the loss of life, harm of the planet, or a person’s right to equity and inclusion.”

Elsewhere, Apex Legends data miners believe a new tropical map could be on the way thanks to a new tropical-themed asset hidden in the game’s files.

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