Google says it won't compete for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud-computing contract to help the U.S. military better leverage artificial intelligence capabilities because the project might conflict with corporate limits on the use of its technologies.
Worth as much as $1 billion a year over a decade, the Joint Enterprise Defense Initiative's cloud-computing initiative is a part of Defense Secretary James Mattis's drive to maintain the U.S. military's competitive edge as artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities change the nature of battle.
While the contract is a lucrative one, "we couldn't be assured that it would align with our artificial intelligence principles," which include a pledge not to build weapons or other systems intended to cause harm, Google said in a statement explaining its decision.
Some of the JEDI cloud's requirements were also outside of the company's current government certifications, Google said.
Google had every intention of bidding for, and possibly winning, the JEDI contract. They spent considerable resources and hours of top executive time courting military officials to do exactly this. They only dropped out due to sustained employee pressure. #TechWontBuildIt— Tech Workers Coalition (@techworkersco) October 8, 2018
The Tech Workers Coalition, an organization of industry employees concentrated in the San Francisco Bay area and Seattle, said the decision was based primarily on "sustained employee pressure."
Not only had Google intended to compete for the JEDI contract, the company had courted military officials extensively with the hope of winning such projects, said the groups, whose members have expressed concern about the ethics of certain uses of artificial intelligence.
"Google points to its AI principles as the reason for this decision, principles that are themselves a response to internal dissent," the coalition said. "The truth is that the project was stopped by the thousands of workers who demanded a say in what they build."
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company is still working with the U.S. on other cloud projects, and Cowen Washington Research Group analyst Roman Schweizer noted that the Pentagon has emphasized that more such contracts are upcoming.
"Had the JEDI contract been open to multiple vendors, we would have submitted a compelling solution for portions of it," Google said. "A multi-cloud approach is in the best interest of government agencies, because it allows them to choose the right cloud for the right workload. At a time when new technology is constantly becoming available, customers should have the ability to take advantage of that innovation."