Monday, 01 April 2019 08:46

US pollie queries Google refusal to work with defence Featured

US pollie queries Google refusal to work with defence Image by Pexels from Pixabay

A Republican Senator from Missouri has written to Google chief executive Sundar Pichai, asking him to address the company's refusal to work with the US Department of Defence while at the same time working with China on artificial intelligence.

Josh Hawley said his letter followed a meeting that Google executives had held with US President Donald Trump to discuss the company's stance on working with the Defence Department.

Google came under pressure from its staff after it signed a deal with the Pentagon to work on a project, known as Project Maven, that provides the military with AI technology to better identify images on the battlefield.

Staff at Google had expressed disquiet over the company's involvement in the project. More than 3000 staff signed a letter submitted to senior management to protest against the decision to get involved in Maven.

In May last year, a dozen workers quit Google, expressing concern over the use of AI in drone warfare and the company's political decisions and the degree to which the trust of users would be eroded by this decision.

Following the protests, Google said it would pull out of Maven by the end of the year but gave no assurance that it would not take up similar work in the future.

Hawley's letter came after he had spoken to acting defence secretary Patrick Shanahan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joe Dunford, and the two officials had told him that Google's work in China was benefitting the Chinese military.

Hawley wrote: "I have been deeply troubled by the testimony of our national defence leadership regarding Google’s unwillingness to partner with the US Armed Forces, even while pursuing lucrative projects in China that directly or indirectly benefit the repressive Chinese Government."

In August last year, it was revealed that Google was planning to re-enter the Chinese search market with a censored search utility. After this was revealed, Google decided later in the year to put the project, known as Project DragonFly, on hold.

"According to reports, the work Google is doing with China not only includes development of artificial intelligence technology that may possibly be used by Chinese military and intelligence services to exploit Americans’ data and privacy, but also the introduction of platforms that advance a value system and modes of behaviour fundamentally at odds with our own, such as the censor-friendly search engine Project Dragonfly," Hawley said.

"That Google persists in seeking partnerships in China – including building an artificial intelligence facility in Beijing – suggests a long-term commitment by the company to have China as a partner."

Hawley urged Pichai to publicly speak about the work Google was doing in China and the company's reluctance to partner with US Armed Forces.

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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