Google has dropped out of a competition to secure a Pentagon contract dubbed the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud (JEDI), saying that the project may conflict with its ethical principles.
The cloud computing contract is thought to be worth as much as $10 billion, with AWS and Microsoft also in the running.
The decision was announced soon after details came to light that up to 500,000 Google+ users have had their user data exposed to third parties. An issue that has reportedly been known since March but left undisclosed due to the fear of “immediate regulatory interest.”
Commenting on the decision to withdraw from the JEDI contract bid, a Google spokesperson said:
While we are working to support the US government with our cloud in many areas, 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.
Google also expressed that a JEDI contract open to multiple vendors would have allowed the company to submit a “compelling solution for portions of it”, stating that a multi-cloud approach is in the best interest of government agencies as it allows them to choose the right cloud for the right workload.
The remaining JEDI competitors, including Microsoft and AWS, have until October 12th to submit bids for the contract, which could last for up to 10 years.
Internet of Business says
Earlier this year, an employee rebellion forced Google to pull out of the Pentagon’s Project Maven, when the contract comes up for renewal next year. The programme is developing AI to analyse drone footage for possible targets, which some see as weaponising the technology.
Google’s subsequent unveiling of a set of ethical principles was no coincidence. The company stated that its technology would no longer be weaponised or used in “other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people”.
It’s possible that the Pentagon’s cloud competition clashed with that very statement.
Google’s AI principles don’t exclude them from carrying out defense work entirely. At the time of their announcement, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explained that, “While we are not developing AI for use in weapons, we will continue our work with governments and the military in many other areas. These include cybersecurity, training, military recruitment, veterans’ healthcare, and search and rescue.”
That the company wasn’t satisfied that the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud project fell within these areas implies that the contract may see the winner carry out work that could be directly weaponised or “cause or directly facilitate injury to people”.
Pichai recently found himself before Republican lawmakers to discuss issues that include the company’s work in China and antitrust concerns. November will see him testify before the US House Judiciary Committee on these same issues.
It’s something of a role reversal, therefore, to see Google withdraw from a US government contract competition, citing ethical reasons.
It shows that the tech giant, whose mantra is ‘Don’t be Evil’, is serious about its ethical principles, to the extent that it was willing to turn down a $10 billion opportunity to one-up Microsoft and Amazon’s enterprise cloud computing efforts, in a hotly contested and profitable industry – demonstrated by the fact that cloud now represents a greater proportion of Amazon’s business than its retail origins.