News emerged last month of a Google partnership with the U.S. military on machine learning to analyze drone footage. This set off a fierce internal debate among employees, but it appears that the company is continuing with plans to win lucrative contracts.
In recent years, Google has aggressively pushed into the cloud, with one executive in 2015 predicting that within five years it would bring in more revenue than ads. To that end, Google Cloud has built up its cloud offerings, especially various machine learning services that serve as a competitive advantage.
This push comes amidst all industries — including governments — transitioning business to the cloud. An in-depth report today by Defense One details the Department of Defense’s intention to use the cloud as a means to “push mission-critical information to front-line operators.”
The effort manifests as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) program where cloud services would be used to support combat operations, with artificial intelligence possibly integrated. It is potentially worth $10 billion over the next decade, with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Oracle all competing.
However, it also comes as Google’s workforce has demonstrated a hesitation to work on military applications of technology. Project Maven involving analyzing drone footage for the Air Force spurred a petition with 3,100 signatories asking Sundar Pichai to cancel the program and not participate in future ones.
Despite this, today’s Defense One report notes that Google is still working quietly towards winning the contract, with most employees not aware of the effort.
In response to the earlier controversy, Cloud head Diane Greene held a town hall yesterday on the issue where she repeated that Google was working on a “set of ethical principles to guide the company’s use of its technology and products.” These guidelines would be set in place before Google commits to more military projects.
According to today’s article, employee fears were not allayed by Greene, while internal resistance could damage Google’s chances of winning the contract. With Maven, Greene noted that Google would not build weapons, but many employees are also opposed to indirect “military use.”