Google withdraws $10bn Pentagon cloud bid amid ethical concerns

Google's new toolkit wants parents to educate their kids about online safety

Earlier this year, Defence One reported that Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai were instrumental in sparking the Pentagon's interest in cloud computing, though the company had only quietly pursued a contract amid fears of a strong reaction from rank and file staffers.

Pentagon's JEDI, or Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, cloud computing solution contract is part of the Department of Defense's efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure.

"We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications", a Google spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the company works with the USA government in many areas.

Google is taking a pass at a potential $10 billion contract. Amazon has said it favors the single-cloud approach for the JEDI contract.

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"Had the JEDI contract been open to multiple vendors, we would have submitted a compelling solution for portions of it", a Google representative said. While it will still work with the military, the guidelines would prohibit the use of AI in weaponry. According to the Tech Workers Coalition, Google withdrew from the JEDI competition due to "sustained pressure" from tech workers, possibly also from employees.

The long and costly process to gain authorization to sell cloud services to federal agencies can give technology companies a boost when they compete for government contracts.

This follows Google's cessation of its role within the Pentagon's "Project Maven" AI drone system, which can identify people and areas of interest using drone footage, with Google's involvement triggering a backlash from the public as well as its own workers. It's widely believed that AWS is the favored candidate to land the contract, though rival firms Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. are all expected to tender bids. The about-face comes after Google employees protested and resigned at what they perceived as their company's enabling of warfare technology, and demanded a corporate policy to prevent Google from working on harmful technologies in the future.

The contract, known as Project Maven, is created to automate the analysis of surveillance footage collected by US military drones, a task that has for years been handled directly by USA airmen. According to those principles, Google will not design or deploy AI that can cause harm or injury to people, that can gather information for surveillance that "violates internationally accepted norms", or that violates worldwide law and human rights principles. The company faces allegations from President Donald Trump and his allies that it biases search results against politically conservative sources.

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