MIT: No More Tech for Militarism and Endless Profits

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On Feb. 26–28, MIT will celebrate the opening of the Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing, a school that intends to be at the forefront of AI research and the “true north” of ethics and computing with “the good of all” in mind.

These claims are hard to take seriously. We question what kind of ethics the College of Computing seeks to commit itself to, given that MIT has invited a proud war criminal, Henry Kissinger, to speak at the College’s launch directly before a panel on ethics and AI. You can read more about the morally dubious nature of this College in this open letter.

In order for the new College to not be a force for evil, we demand, as a minimum:

  1. That MIT not use defense industry funding for College of Computing.
    Explanation: Militaries around the world are eager to use developments in AI to upgrade their instruments of war. The US military is no exception, and has explicitly called on major companies, like Google and IBM, to help with the “rapid adoption of AI in all aspects of the military.”  These same companies will be featured at the celebrations for the Schwarzman College of Computing, as will other representatives of American militarism, from Henry Kissinger to Ash Carter. As it is, MIT has long been entangled with the defense sector. We refuse to let this new college become yet another tool for the US war machine.
  2. That MIT not use money connected to the prison-industrial complex to fund the College of Computing.
    Explanation: Computing technologies are increasingly central to policing and imprisonment practices that disproportionately oppress racialized and marginalized populations within the United States: communities of color, poor and working-class communities, immigrant communities targeted for detention and deportation, and LGBTQ+ communities. Alongside countless other scholars, activists, and organizers, we recognize that mass incarceration is a form of modern-day slavery. As MIT reckons with the history of its relationship to slavery, we must also reckon with MIT’s ongoing, persistent relationship with institutions of oppression and control, and we must stop MIT from forming new relationships with these kinds of institutions.
  3. That MIT rescind Dan Huttenlocher’s appointment as Dean for the new College, and that the future dean for the new College not sit on the board of any major corporations, especially tech giants.
    Explanation: Dan Huttenlocher sits on Amazon’s board of directors. An ethical approach to computing involves challenging and interrogating Big Tech corporations, many of which aid and participate in the surveillance, capture, and killing of humans. Amazon, in particular, plays a major role in building up both our surveillance state and ICE's deportation machine. To what extent can the College of Computing challenge Big Tech's power, given the conflict of interest of its dean?
  4. That MIT issue a public apology to the MIT community and to the people of Laos, Cambodia, Chile, Argentina, Bangladesh, and Vietnam for whitewashing Henry Kissinger’s genocidal legacy by inviting him to speak.
    Kissinger’s legacy speaks for itself: amongst other things, he deliberately sabotaged the 1968 Vietnam War Peace Treaty, he orchestrated the secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia and Laos, and he spearheaded the Nixon administration’s murderous efforts to topple Salvador Allende’s government in Chile. He deserves to be treated as a mass-murderer, not as a luminary.

The College of Computing is only one of many troubling developments at MIT. In order to move the Institute as a whole in a more ethical direction, we demand, as a minimum:

  1. That MIT disclose all financial partnerships with governments, companies, and other institutions, and divest funds as deemed appropriate by the MIT community.
    Explanation: There is no publicly available information about the specific companies that MIT’s $16.4 billion endowment is invested in, which is why we are pushing for greater transparency from MIT’s Investment Management Corporation about their investments, especially in the defense industry, the prison-industrial complex, and in war-mongering governments across the globe.
  2. That MIT cut all financial and political ties with the Saudi Arabian government and any affiliated firms.
    Explanation: Millions of Yemenis are suffering from starvation and disease as a consequence of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition’s assaults. We don’t want blood money in our school.
  3. That MIT students are allowed to independently and democratically influence the Institute’s decision-making regarding major Institute-wide issues such as the acceptance of substantial donations or the establishment of partnerships with major institutions.  

Finally, we invite everyone to protest MIT’s invitation of Henry Kissinger on Feb. 28 at 2:30 pm, in front of the Stratton Student Center.

--- MIT Students Against War.