Google is bidding to be a military cloud provider: Report
Google is reportedly working "aggressively" to win a contract with the Pentagon, even though some of its previous work at the Defense Department sparked a huge backlash from employees, according to The New York Times. The company has faced backlash from employees for its Pentagon projects in the past.
Google is reportedly working "aggressively" to win a contract with the Pentagon, even though some of its previous work at the Defense Department sparked a huge backlash from employees, according to The New York Times. According to the report, Google's cloud division has reassigned engineers to work on a proposal for Google to contribute to the joint warfare capability program in the cloud, which the Defense Department describes as an attempt to "achieve dominance in the traditional and non-traditional domains of war ".
The contract Google is studying will reportedly be opened to various companies to submit proposals and work, and the Defense Department estimates it could be a multi-billion dollar project. In a document outlining what cloud providers are expected to do, the Defense Department says that anyone wishing to win a contract will have to "allow access to crucial war data" with a variety of classification levels (including secret information and top-secret). Additionally, the program requires applicants to be able to "provide advanced data analytics services that safely enable timely, data-driven decision making at the tactical level."
Google says it has rules on how it can use artificial intelligence regarding the military, which it established after employee backlash. In 2018, reports emerged that Google was developing artificial intelligence technology to analyze video captured by military drones as part of the Pentagon's Project Maven initiative. Thousands of employees signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai saying that Google should not be involved in a war and that the work put the company's reputation at risk and went against its stated values. Eventually, the company relented and said it would stop working on the project.
After Google told employees it would let its Project Maven contract expire, it announced its ethical AI principles, promising it wouldn't work on AI-powered weapons or AI surveillance projects that would likely draw the ire of human rights or privacy defenders. However, the company said it would continue to work with the military "in many other areas."
At the time, Google said that any Pentagon work it did would have to adhere to those principles. At this point, according to the Times, it's unclear whether what the Defense Department wants would be allowed under those guidelines.
Google Cloud is still used by parts of the US Military
The company has continued to work with the military since its engagement, with some projects involving AI. As the Times reports, Google announced in August that a contractor would use its cloud services to analyze images from inspection drones to determine when Navy ships needed maintenance. The Air Force is also looking to use Google Cloud to help manage aircraft maintenance. In an emailed statement to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the company is "firmly committed to serving [its] public sector customers, including the DoD."
Obviously, military-related work isn't completely out of the question for Google, but given its history, employees are likely to pay more attention when the company seeks to work with the Pentagon. Google employees' responses to Project Maven helped initiate organization within the company; union organizers cited it as one of the collective actions that inspired unionization. The union has responded to the Times story about the current job in the DoD offer on Twitter, promising that workers will fight the contract.