A funny thing has happened to Google and Amazon on their path toward high-tech success: They have become crucial cogs in the U.S. national security establishment.
Both companies are expanding teams of employees with security clearances to work on projects that include deploying artificial intelligence and building digital “clouds” to offering law enforcement facial recognition tools that can even read the mood of people caught on camera.
The security establishment’s embrace of Big Tech has ruffled the feathers of traditional defense contractors and roiled employee ranks, in Google’s case, over whether the company is being drawn into what disguntled employees called “the business of war.”
Defense industry analysts say the Pentagon views Big Tech, and particularly Google with its deep bench of artificial intelligence researchers, as vital to the nation’s future safety.
In some ways, the evolution of companies born to disrupt the status quo into business giants with a broad array of clients, including the security establishment, is a result of the profits to be made doing business with the federal government.
The Pentagon currently is testing a customized Google AI surveillance engine that sifts through massive amounts of footage from tactical drones to produce what it calls “actionable intelligence and insights at speed.” The tests are under way at six locations in Africa and the Middle East. Such drone footage has been used in the past to target and kill ISIS extremists.
The pilot, known as Project Maven, spurred nearly 4,000 of Google’s 88,000 employees to sign a petition in April demanding that the project be cancelled because it would “irreparably damage Google’s brand.” The petition added: “Building this technology to assist the U.S. government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.”
The internal protest about Project Maven appeared to be taking a toll. The tech website Gizmodo, citing three unnamed sources, reported Friday afternoon that a Google executive told employees earlier in the day that the backlash over Project Maven had been severe and that the company would not pursue further artificial intelligence work with the Pentagon.
Google declined to answer questions about Project Maven, and a spokeswoman for the Mountain View, Calif., company did not answer broader queries about the company’s activities in the national security sphere.
To continue reading: Big Tech firms march to the beat of Pentagon, CIA despite dissension