Google pulls out of $10 billion Pentagon cloud contract over AI concerns
11 October, 2018, 06:30
Google will not compete for a $10 billion opportunity to build the Defense Department's cloud computing contract, the company said Tuesday, saying the project could conflict with its corporate values regarding ethical use of artificial intelligence.
The Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) project, which involves the mass transfer of data previously handled by defence contractors to a commercial competitor, offers a big enough potential payout that it had attracted the attention of giants like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.
Earlier this year, Google decided not to renew another defense contract called Project Maven, which provided artificial intelligence for the assesement of drone imagery.
"We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI Principles", a Google spokesman said in a statement to Bloomberg.
In June, Google chief executive Sundar Pichai unveiled a set of principles on the company's use of artificial intelligence, saying that the company would not participate in "technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm" and would stay away from "weapons or other technologies whose principal objective or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people". While it will still work with the military, the guidelines would prohibit the use of AI in weaponry. Oracle filed a complaint a few months ago to challenge that, telling the government that dividing a massive contract between several companies "promotes constant competition, fosters innovation and lowers prices". A dozen people resigned before Google pledged to ditch Project Maven but "continue our work with governments and the military". Final bids are due October 12. In its statement, Google said it would have preferred that JEDI be open to multiple vendors so that it could have "submitted a compelling solution for portions of it".
For its part, Google told Bloomberg that it also supports the idea of splitting the JEDI contract between multiple providers, and that it would have submitted a bid on those terms.
The JEDI contract attracted widespread interest from technology companies struggling to catch up with Amazon in the burgeoning federal government market for cloud services.
Top Pentagon officials have said the JEDI contract would account for about 16 percent of the Department's overall cloud computing work, subsuming numerous Defense Department's existing cloud efforts.
The contract is winner-take-all, with Amazon seen as the frontrunner.