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Tech-Pentagon tension probably isn’t going away anytime soon

Tech-Pentagon tension probably isn’t going away anytime soon
[Photo: Mariordo/Wikimedia Commons]

Google is still working with the U.S. Defense Department on an initiative known as Project Maven, training computers to recognize objects in images, such as photographs taken by drones, Gizmodo reports. That’s despite the reservations of thousands of employees who’ve reportedly petitioned the company to end its involvement with the military, with about a dozen even quitting over Google’s role in the project.

Since Google isn’t the only tech company working with a Defense Department increasingly interested in harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and other sophisticated number-crunching technology, it seems unlikely this tension will go away anytime soon. A group called the Tech Workers Coalition has called on other tech companies, including Microsoft, IBM, and Amazon, to refuse defense contracts as the Pentagon pushes further into technologies like AI, robotics, and cloud computing.

“The Department of Defense should not buy another weapons system without AI,” Lieutenant General John “Jack” Shanahan, the department’s director for defense intelligence for warfighter support, said at an Nvidia conference in the fall. Nvidia, the maker of powerful chips beloved by artificial intelligence experts, gamers, and bitcoin miners, hasn’t commented publicly on whether it’s involved with Maven.

The Defense Department is also in the midst of putting together a multibillion-dollar cloud computing contract, which so far has proven controversial, not because of the power the technology would give to the military, but due to the outsized benefits that could come to one tech company if the Pentagon signs with just one provider.

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