The Pentagon has been trying to get a hold of AI and related technologies from tech giants. Google employees had quit over it, Microsoft employees had asked the company to withdraw from the JEDI project. Last Friday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote about Microsoft and the US Military and the company’s visions in this area.
Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Oracle are the companies who have bid for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) project. JEDI is a department wide cloud computing infrastructure that will give the Pentagon access to weapons systems enhanced with artificial intelligence and cloud computing.
Microsoft believes in defending USA
“We are not going to withdraw from the future, in the most positive way possible, we are going to work to help shape it.” said Brad Smith, President at Microsoft indicating that Microsoft intends to provide their technology to the Pentagon. Microsoft did not shy away from bidding in the Pentagon’s JEDI project. This in contrast to Google, which opted out of the same program earlier this month citing ethical concerns.
Smith expressed Microsoft’s intent towards providing AI and related technologies to the US defense department saying, “we want the people who defend USA to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft”.
Smith stated that Microsoft’s work in this area is based on three convictions:
- Microsoft believes in the strong defense of USA and wants the defenders to have access to USA’s best technology, this includes Microsoft
- They want to use their ‘knowledge and voice’ to address ethical AI issues via the nation’s ‘civic and democratic processes’.
- They are giving their employees to opt out of work on these projects given that as a global company they consist of employees from different countries.
Smith shared that Microsoft has had a long standing history with the US Department of Defense (DOD). Their tech has been used throughout the US military from the front office to field operations. This includes bases, ships, aircraft and training facilities.
Amazon shares Microsoft’s visions
Amazon too shares these visions with Microsoft in empowering US law and defense institutions with the latest technology. Amazon already provides cloud services to power the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos said: “If big tech companies are going to turn their back on the Department of Defense, this country is going to be in trouble.”
Amazon also provides the US law enforcement with their facial recognition technology called Rekognition. This has been a bone of contention for not just civil rights groups but also for some Amazon’s employees.
Rekognition will help in identifying and incarcerating undesirable people. But it does not really work with accuracy. In a study by ACLU, Rekognition identified 28 people from the US congress incorrectly. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has now filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request which demands the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to disclose how DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) use Rekognition for law enforcement and immigration checks.
Google’s rationale for withdrawing from the JEDI project
Last week, in an interview with the Fox Network, Oracle founder Larry Ellison stated that it was shocking how Google viewed this matter. Google withdrew from the JEDI project following strong backlash from many of its employees. In the official statement, they have stated the reason for dropping out of the JEDI contract bidding as an ethical value misalignment and also that they don’t fully have all necessary clearance to work on Government projects.’
However, Google is open to launching a customized search engine in China that complies with China’s rules of censorship including potential to surveil Chinese citizens.
Should AI be used in weapons?
This question is the at the heart of the contentious topic of the tech industry working with the military. It is a serious topic that has been debated over the years by educated scientists and experienced leaders. Elon Musk, researchers from DeepMind and other companies even pledged to not build lethal AI.
Personally, I side with the researchers and believe AI should be used exclusively for the benefit of mankind, to enhance human lives and solve problems that would prosper people’s lives. And not against each other in a race to build weapons or to become a superpower. But then again what would I know? Leading nations are in an AI arms race as we speak, with sophisticated national AI plans and agendas.
For more details on Microsoft’s interest in working with the US Military visit the Microsoft website.