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Google resists the dark side of the force

the emperor 2

Google has decided not to compete for a lucrative Pentagon cloud-computing contract, worth up to $10 billion, stating the project might conflict with its corporate values or AI principles.

The Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (yes, JEDI) cloud project is an initiative to modernise and revise IT policies, improve security and remove barriers of adoption. The cloud computing and storage environment would extend from the ‘home-front to the tactical edge’, and would be accessible to all Department of Defense organizations, with self-service account set-up and provisioning. Companies are due to table their bid for the contract, which could last 10 years, by October 12.

Now it is plainly clear Google will not be one of those companies.

“We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn’t be assured that it would align with our AI Principles,” a Google spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg. “And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”

Not having the right capabilities and expertise should be considered a minor problem in this context. For a $10 billion contract, Google could acquire the right company to bolster in-house capabilities, but the main point of ignoring this tender is focused on the alignment of values, morals and principles.

While we do not doubt the Google executives are perfectly nice people, these are among the more successful businessmen and women on the planet, and people who achieve this lofty success do not do so through maintaining strong principles and morals. But the employees down the corporate ladder certainly do.

During April, Google faced an internal revolt thanks to participation in Project Maven, an initiative which improved the accuracy of drone strikes with artificial intelligence. Google employees decided using the company’s AI to kill people was stepping over the line and protested. Some threatened to quit, some actually did, and Google faced a PR and HR headache. It would appear avoiding the JEDI project is much more about circumnavigating another reaction from the Googlers around the world.

Following this incident, Google decided to put its AI principles down on paper. These principles would govern how the internet giant would conduct business and allow its AI technologies to be used. The first of these principles is to be socially beneficial, something some might point to should the company have decided to pursue the contract.

Google is a company which is only as good as the employees which work for it. The success is built on attracting the sharpest graduates and smartest enthusiasts, though many of these individuals would not be particularly interested in creating machines which kill. $10 billion might be a significant boost to the cloud business unit, but the collateral damage to the rest of the company could be much greater.

Fortunately for the Pentagon and the US government, Google is the only one which has found it conscience. They’ll be plenty of people who don’t mind working with the more destructive side of government.

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