Unity staff concerned by lack of transparency over military projects
Unity employees are questioning the company’s lack of transparency over its military and government work of “GovTech” work, which contracts with the Department of Defense
According to an extensive report from Waypoint, multiple employees have expressed concern over the engine maker’s reluctance to be upfront with staff about the nature of projects that could be viewed as unethical.
The part of Unity that’s pursuing government and military contracts is sometimes nicknamed “GovTech,” which the company described in a public presentation from March 2021 as intended to “develop technologies across our products that helps the government adapt AI and ML [machine learning]”
According to three sources Waypoint talked to, some Unity employees might develop technology that ends up with military clients without even realizing that’s how their work would be used. These sources, a mixture of current and former Unity employees, were granted anonymity to avoid reprisal.
One internal memo, titled “GovTech Projects – Communication Protocol,” which was shared with Waypoint but not distributed widely within Unity itself, outlined how the company should talk about these contracts with “internal/external stakeholders,” and makes clear Unity understands the delicate line it’s walking.
“We need to be sensitive to the various values & beliefs which people perceive our engagement with the Government, specifically DoD [Department of Defense],” reads the memo, which instructs managers to use the terms “government” or “defense” instead of “military.”
The memo is listed as a draft, isn’t dated, and Waypoint’s sources were unaware of a final version meant for wider distribution. It includes a list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for Unity employees when talking about GovTech projects. Under “Do’s,” the memo tells employees to point out that Unity is using AI to improve how the DoD runs simulations and trainings, and that “Nothing we are doing will be used in live warfighting.” The memo also instructs employees to highlight that Unity’s “current projects provide a service and or solution to DoD companies and we are not taking the lead on any single project.”
Under “Don’ts,” the memo instructs employees not to “discuss any projects that involves the use of simulated or virtual weapons or training to harm another person.”
Unity, the popular game making tool, has long been used in industries outside of video games. Unity’s site celebrates this versatility, saying its technology offers “incredible possibilities” for film, engineering, architecture, automotive, transportation, and more.
Unity’s site also proudly lists its technology being used by the government and military, but internal Unity documents obtained by Waypoint show the company is struggling to explain why its employees, who supposedly signed up to create tools that empower game makers, are now directly or inadvertently developing technologies for militaries with the stated objectives of fighting wars.
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