Google kills bid for $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests

Google kills bid for $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests

Google kills bid for $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests

Google has withdrawn from the competition for a Defense Department cloud computing contract worth as much as $10 billion, saying the project may conflict with its principles for ethical use of AI.

Thousands of staff had already protested about working on a separate Department of Defense contract and against this backdrop has opted not to proceed further with the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud (Jedi).

A Google spokesman said in a statement obtained by Bloomberg that the company is "not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI Principles".

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In June, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai unveiled a set of principles on the company's use of artificial intelligence, saying that the company would not participate in "technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm" and would stay away from "weapons or other technologies whose principal goal or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people".

Google is undergoing a broader reckoning over how the company's artificial intelligence algorithms, which are some of the most advanced in the world, should be applied to the work of national defense. The protest was filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) days before the bidding process closes. But Google Cloud chief executive Diane Greene said at the time that the company could not control the "downstream uses" of the technology. As only one company will be awarded the contract, Amazon is seen as the frontrunner.

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. A dozen people resigned before Google pledged to ditch Project Maven but "continue our work with governments and the military".

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Several big tech companies are currently in a race to win the Pentagon's $10 billion JEDI cloud contract, and after Google pulled out from the fight yesterday, Microsoft is now touting an upcoming expansion of its Azure Government Secret cloud service (via Reuters).

"I don't think anyone was doubting that Microsoft would be able to get its security up to snuff before the JEDI contract", said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Bach.

The contract is winner-take-all, with Amazon seen as the frontrunner. Amazon provides image recognition tech to the Defense Department, and Microsoft offers cloud services to military and defense agencies.

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