3 Years After Maven Uproar, Google Cozies to Pentagon


Jack Poulson, a former Googler who is now executive director of nonprofit Tech Inquiry, says the gap in the air and the Maven protesters deserves credit for obstructing the company’s plans and forcing it to introduce some AI management. But he says the broad exceptions built on AI principles and Google’s permissive interpretation make them a shield used to deflect scrutiny rather than a meaningful moral compass. “I think they just want credible denial,” Poulson said. He left Google in late 2018 because of a project to adapt search technology compliance with Chinese internet censorship.

Alphabet Workers’ Union, which represents a small minority of Google employees, tweeted on Monday that even if Google’s AI principles say technology should always be “socially viable,” Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability “will modernize DOD’s war tools and lead to extrajudicial killing of people all over the world. “

Google stays far behind Amazon and Microsoft in competing for commercial cloud computing deals and for government and defense contracts. Both have higher security certifications than Google, which allows them to manage classified information. And both are more openly supportive of working with the U.S. government on national security.

Amazon has deals with several parts of the Pentagon, including one with a Special Operations Command using AI to analyze media seized by U.S. troops. Microsoft’s contracts include an Army project equipping soldiers with augmented reality headsets. It led to employee protests but not to the extent of those at Google. An Amazon spokesman said the company’s commitment to “ensuring our fighters and defense partners have access to the best technology at the best price is stronger than ever.” Microsoft declined to comment; the company says the Office of Responsible AI is reviewing the “sensitive” use of its technology.

The chance for Google to compete for the sweeping Joint Warfighter Cloud Capability contract came after the Pentagon in July removed the original version, named JEDI and valued at up to $ 10 billion, was donated to Microsoft. Amazon and Oracle have admitted in cases that the delivery process was unfair.

JWCC has a unique format that sees work shared by many companies. The Pentagon says Amazon and Microsoft are pre-qualified to bid and that it will consider inviting IBM, Oracle, and Google.

That structure would be good for Google. The company said in late 2018 that it would not bid for JEDI because it could violate AI principles and-importantly-it lacks security certifications. Kurian said in his blog post on Friday that missing certificates were the “primary” reason but Google now has more certificates. He said the JWCC format will allow Google to select contracts within the scope of its AI principles, leaving more workload for others.

Jerry McGinn, executive director of the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, hopes multi-cloud contracts will become common as federal cloud spending grows. That will help Google deal with the constraints of AI principles and lack of certifications.

Modular contracts reduce the risk of legal challenges such as the sinking of JEDI and increased competition that boosts value for the Pentagon, McGinn said.

Bloomberg Government estimated that by 2020 the federal government will spend $ 6.6 billion on cloud contracts, with defense agencies nearly a third of that total, and that cloud spending has grown about 10 percent a year . In 2019 the Pentagon released an AI strategy calling for the adoption of the technology in every aspect of the U.S. military, supported by cloud computing.

What exactly the JWCC contractors will do is not yet known. The name of the program suggests that some jobs may be directly related to armed conflict. The Pentagon’s chief information officer said in July that the JWCC would provide better support than JEDI to AI projects – Google’s specialty – including a program that develops algorithms to help commanders identify the targets. The Pentagon is expected to issue a formal request for proposals in the coming weeks and aims to award the contracts by April 2022.


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