Google’s planned exit from the controversial “Maven” project doesn’t mean the Pentagon’s artificial intelligence aims will go bust. It just opens up a new window of opportunity for other tech giants, like Amazon, Microsoft and IBM—all of whom were originally courted by the U.S. military.
The Pentagon is keen to expand its use of artificial intelligence at a time when it is crystal clear that AI dictates the future balance of global power. And they’re hoping (rather realistically) that Silicon Valley won’t abandon them entirely by following Google out the door.
In May, some 3,000 Google employees protested over the company’s work with the U.S. military in a project known as “Maven”. They were concerned that Google’s artificial intelligence could be used to improve drone strikes, among other things, because the AI technology on steroids helps the government analyze drone footage.
Under pressure by outraged employees and the subsequent media scrutiny, Google said it wouldn’t renew its lucrative contract with the Department of Defense and would just wait for it to expire next year.
But as usual, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes here, and there’s much to be read between the lines. Google’s decision not to renew the contract is somewhat diluted by the fact that it’s got other military contracts.
Last month, reports emerged that Google had pitched its AI and machine learning tools to another military project—specifically, to U.S. special operations (think Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan …). Related: Trade War Adds $20,000 To Tesla's New Cars
And earlier this year, a group of Google software engineers refused to work on a security feature called "air gap" because the project would've helped the company win sensitive military contracts.
After the initial criticism the followed Google’s decision on Maven, the Pentagon has launched a campaign to try to convince everyone that its AI endeavors will be put to good use.
James Holmes, the leader of the Air Force's Air Combat Command, said AI capability would free up people to focus on analysis and passing key information on more quickly and effectively.
"What I'd like to do is be able to convince people that we're all in the business of avoiding major war. That's what we're trying to do. We're going to have to rely on our industrial capabilities that are on that business," Holmes said.
Working with the government is suddenly a big deal, it would seem. And it’s not just about military-grade AI.
Staff protests at major tech companies over government contracts is becoming a “thing”.
Late last month, more than 650 Salesforce employees signed a letter to CEO Mark Benioff, asking him to reconsider contracts with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service when thousands of children were being separated from their parents.
Microsoft was also criticized after its work with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) was detailed, with employees penning an open letter to management in protest over a $19.4-million ICE contract.
So who will step in to fill the looming AI gap with regard to Maven? And will we even hear that much about it from now on?
The Pentagon is determined to continue with AI research because if they don’t, they’ll lose a major advantage over giant powers, most notably China. Tech giants will hardly be able to resist the lure of government contracts, and employees will have their conscience’s appeased as much as possible.
In the meantime, no one is balking at the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project worth up to $10 billion. The bidding war is already on for this cloud contract, and it’s being described as “epic”.
By Damir Kaletovic for Safehaven.com
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