There is quite a buzz about Google announcing that they have decided to no-bid the Pentagon’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) Cloud solicitation.
“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. “And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.”
This move probably could have been predicted if you kept your ear out for the rumblings that were reported as early as August 2018. The decision also follows on the heels of Google saying that it won’t continue supporting DoD’s Project Maven, which leveraged Google’s artificial intelligence (AI) tools to analyze drone footage. More than 4,000 Google employees signed a petition protesting Google’s participation in Project Maven, some even quit.
But is that really all to the story? Google was unlikely to overcome advantages that Amazon.com and Microsoft had to win the contract. In the long run, their decision is unlikely to change the outcome of the competition. Regarding Google’s statement that portions of the contract were out of scope with its current government certifications, that makes sense. But it doesn’t really gel that it took them from the time that the solicitation hit the street in July until four days before the proposal was due to figure out that they didn’t have the proper certifications. It’s likely they knew that soon after the RFP’s release and decided to bid anyway. In this industry, companies are not in the habit of spending large sums of money to develop their proposal response without understanding the requirements and believing that they have a shot at winning. This sounds more like a smoke grenade used to obscure what’s really going on.
What is really going on?
Well, Google is a great company with good people and amazing talent, but they are not a typical defense contractor. In the face of Project Maven, Google employees boldly shared their conscientious objection to using their AI for weapons technology development. This, of course, is their right. On the other hand, consider this: The use of AI to analyze drone surveillance footage allows our forces to identify threats and strike our enemies without putting our warfighters in harm’s way. Thus, without leveraging AI technology, the men and women of our armed forces are actually put into unnecessary danger, by braving the hazards of the battlefield in order to analyze and eliminate the target.
This is just one example of how taking company values so literally could be detrimental. Still, Google’s AI Principles are worthy of respect and consideration, as are the lives of warfighters that AI technology can protect. In fact, Google has a beautiful Veteran hiring campaign and recently launched VetNet, an internal employee resource group that supports not only the Vets but their families as well.
And as for the DoD? They still have the fastest horses nearing the finish line and we are excited to watch the race.