Google wants to work with Pentagon again despite employee concerns

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Google wants to work with Pentagon again despite employee concerns

Three years after an employee rebellion forced Google to quit work on a Pentagon program that used artificial intelligence, the company is aggressively pursuing a major contract to provide its technology to the military.

The company’s plan to land a potentially lucrative contract, known as joint warfare cloud capability, could spark outrage among its vocal workforce and test management’s resolve to resist employee demands. can.

In 2018, thousands of Google employees signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in Project Maven, a military program that uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and to refine the targets of drone attacks. Can be used. Google management reached a settlement and agreed not to renew the contract after it expired.

The outcry prompted Google to create guidelines for the ethical use of artificial intelligence, restrict the use of its technology for weapons or surveillance, and accelerate its cloud computing business. Now, as Google positions cloud computing as an important part of its future, the bid for the new Pentagon contract could test the limits of the AI ​​principles that set it apart from other tech giants that regularly Seek military and intelligence work from

The military’s initiative, which aims to modernize the Pentagon’s cloud technology and support the use of artificial intelligence to gain on the battlefield, is a replacement for a contract with Microsoft that has been signed amid a protracted legal battle with Amazon. Summer was canceled. After the uproar over Project Maven, Google did not compete against Microsoft for that contract.

The Pentagon’s relaunch of its cloud computing project has given Google a chance to jump back in the bid, and according to four people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, the company has submitted a presentation to defense officials. Has rushed to prepare a proposal to . In September, Google’s cloud unit made it a priority, declaring an emergency “code yellow,” an internal designation of importance that allowed the company to pull engineers from other assignments and allow them to focus on a military project, among them. Said two people.

On Tuesday, Thomas Kurian, the chief executive of the Google Cloud unit, met with Charles Q. Brown, Jr., the Air Force chief of staff and other top Pentagon officials, the two people said.

Google said in a written statement that it is “strongly committed to serving our public sector customers”, including the Department of Defense, and that it will “evaluate any future bid opportunities accordingly.”

The contract replaces the now-expired Joint Venture Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, Pentagon cloud computing contract, which was estimated at $10 billion over 10 years. The exact size of the new contract is unknown, although it is half-term and will be awarded to multiple companies, not a single provider like JEDI.

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It’s unclear whether the work, which would give the Defense Department access to Google’s cloud products, would violate Google’s AI principles, although the Defense Department has said the technology is expected to support the military in combat. But Pentagon rules about outside access to sensitive or classified data could prevent Google from seeing how its technology is being used.

The Defense Department said it would seek proposals from a limited number of companies that could meet its requirements. “Since this is an active acquisition, we cannot provide any additional information related to this effort,” said department spokesman Russell Gomere.

After a late start in selling its cloud computing technology to other organizations, Google has struggled to close the gap with Amazon and Microsoft, which have the two largest cloud computing businesses. To bring in more large customers, Google hired Mr. Kurian, a longtime executive at software company Oracle, to take over the business in 2018. They have increased the size of Google’s sales staff and prompted the company to aggressively compete for new contracts. including military deals.

But Google employees have continued to protest some of the work being done by the cloud unit. In 2019, he opposed the use of artificial intelligence tools for the oil and gas industry. A year later, the company said it would not build custom AI software for the extraction of fossil fuels.

Google began work on Project Maven in 2017 and is preparing to bid for JEDI. Many Google employees believed that Project Maven represented a potentially lethal use of artificial intelligence, and more than 4,000 workers signed a letter demanding Google to withdraw from the project.

Soon after, Google announced a set of ethical principles that would govern the use of artificial intelligence. Google will not allow its AI to be used for weapons or surveillance, its chief executive Sundar Pichai said, but will continue to accept military contracts for cyber security and search and rescue.

Several months later, Google said it would not bid on the JEDI contract, although it was unlikely that the company had a shot at completing the deal: the Maven experience soured relations between Google and the military. Granted, and Google lacked some security. Certificates required to handle classified data.

Google’s cloud business recently took on the military, among other things. Since last year, Google has signed contracts with the US Air Force to use cloud computing for aircraft maintenance and pilot training, as well as artificial intelligence to detect and predict the maintenance needs of facilities and ships. The US Navy has signed the contract to use it.

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Some Google employees believed the new contract would not violate the principles, a person familiar with the decision said, as the contract would enable common use of cloud technology and artificial intelligence. The principles specifically say that Google will not pursue AI that can be applied to “weapons or those that are directly hurt”.

Lucy Suchman, an anthropology professor of science and technology at Lancaster University, whose research focuses on the use of technology in warfare, said that with so much money at stake, it’s no surprise that Google could falter on its commitment. Is.

“This demonstrates the fragility of Google’s commitment to staying out of the major merger between DoD and Silicon Valley,” Ms Suchman said.

Google’s efforts come as its employees are already pushing the company to cancel a cloud computing contract with the Israeli military called Project Nimbus, which provides Google’s services to government entities across Israel. Is. In an open letter published last month by The Guardian, Google employees called on their employers to cancel the contract.

The Defense Department’s efforts to transition to cloud technology have been mired in a legal battle. The military works on outdated computer systems and has spent billions of dollars on modernization. This turned the US Internet giant in the hope that companies could quickly and securely move the Defense Department to the cloud.

In 2019, the Department of Defense awarded the JEDI contract to Microsoft. Amazon sued to block the contract, claiming that Microsoft did not have the technical capability to meet military needs and that former President Donald J. The hostility had unduly influenced the decision. Post.

In July, the Defense Department announced that it could no longer wait to resolve the legal battle with Amazon. It canceled the JEDI contract and said it would be replaced with a joint warfare cloud capability.

The Pentagon also noted that Amazon and Microsoft were the only companies that had the technology to meet their needs, but said it would conduct market research before ruling out other competitors. The Defense Department said it planned to reach out to Google, Oracle and IBM.

But Google executives believe they have the ability to compete for the new contract, and the company expects the Defense Department to reveal whether it will be eligible to bid in the coming weeks, from the matter. said two acquaintances.

The Defense Department previously said it expected to award a contract by April.

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