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The Pentagon Is Making Big Tech Have Their Mottos Take A Back Seat To War
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The Pentagon Is Making Big Tech Have Their Mottos Take A Back Seat To War

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MOUNTAIN VIEW — June 4, 2018

Silicon Valley’s history is inextricably linked to military work. The internet itself grew out of a project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and many tech firms benefited from robust defense spending during the Cold War. More recently, however, some tech firms obscured their government ties, particularly after the 2013 revelations of government surveillance from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. For today almost all Big Tech companies have become crucial cogs in the U.S. national security establishment and team up with the Pentagon and the CIA despite internal protests.

Google and its partners worked extensively to develop machine learning algorithms for the Pentagon, with the goal of creating a sophisticated system that could surveil entire cities. The Pentagon currently is testing a customized Google AI surveillance engine that sifts through massive amounts of footage from tactical drones to produce what it calls “actionable intelligence and insights at speed.” The tests are under way at six locations in Africa and the Middle East. Such drone footage has been used in the past to target and kill ISIS extremists.

For its part, Amazon Web Services, a subsidiary of the Seattle-based e-commerce giant, runs a secret “cloud” for the CIA that allows the agency to share top secret information with other parts of the intelligence community. It won the $600 million contract in 2013.

An even bigger project is in the offing: Amazon Web Services is a frontrunner to build a massive secure cloud for the Defense Department that some analysts say could rise toward $10 billion over coming years. Google, Microsoft and more traditional defense contractors like General Dynamics are also expected to bid for the information technology, or IT, project, which has the futuristic acronym JEDI.

Amazon Web Services also  has bought two start-ups spun out of the National Security Agency, the nation’s secret monitoring and data-collection arm. In late 2016, Amazon bought a San Diego firm, harvest.ai, which uses artificial intelligence to detect threats from disgruntled insiders in companies or to spot intruders attempting to steal valuable data or customer information

Earlier this year, Amazon bought Sqrrl, a Boston-area threat intelligence company with the logo: “Target. Hunt. Disrupt.” Six of the company’s seven founders came out of the NSA.

Honestly Amazon has a long and deep ties with NSA: two of the three founders of harvest.ai came out of the NSA.

Separately, Amazon Web Services is marketing a powerful facial recognition tool, called Rekognition, that can identify up to 100 people in a crowd in near real time, and even detect emotions like happy, sad, or surprised from facial images.

The Orlando Police Department began a pilot program with Rekognition in December, and testing continues, said Sgt. Eduardo J. Bernal. During the testing, he said, the department “is not using the technology in an investigative capacity or utilizing any images of members of the public.”

The Sheriff’s Office of Washington County, Oregon, is also testing the platform.

While Big Tech are  more aggressively pursuing military work  their employees are asking to stop pushing companies into what disgruntled employees called "the business of war." In particular, Google’s decision to provide artificial intelligence to the Defense Department for the analysis of drone footage has prompted backlash from Google employees and academics. Thousands of employees have signed a petition asking Google to cancel its contract for the project, nicknamed Project Maven, and dozens of employees have resigned in protest.

The letter reads: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war…We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values.”

Google, meanwhile, defended its work on Project Maven, with senior executives noting that the contract is of relatively little value and that its contribution amounts merely to providing the Defense Department with open-source software.  But internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo show that executives viewed Project Maven as a golden opportunity that would open doors for business with the military and intelligence agencies. 

Analysts say that the protests of employees will have no effect. The trend in the strengthening of ties between Big Tech and the NSA will only intensify. Google’s motto "Don't be evil" which once introduced its Code of Conduct, was pushed down to the very end of the lengthy document in a version updated April 5. And it’s not surprising, as when it comes to big money, morality always takes a back seat.

Author: USA Really