Microsoft employees revolt over Pentagon contract

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In a letter published on blogging site Medium, the employees wrote that they joined Microsoft with


Microsoft employees have hit back at the firm's plan to bid for a controversial $10bn Pentagon contract.

In a letter published on blogging site Medium, the employees wrote that they joined Microsoft with ‘the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering.' 

They also accused Microsoft executives of betraying the company's artificial intelligence principles—ones that state A.I. should be ‘fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent, and accountable'—in pursuit of ‘short-term profits.'

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In a letter published on blogging site Medium, the employees wrote that they joined Microsoft with ‘the expectation that the technologies we build will not cause harm or human suffering.'

It comes after Google dropped out of the bidding for a huge Pentagon cloud computing contract that could be worth up to $10 billion, saying the deal would be ‘inconsistent with its principles'.

The decision by Google left a handful of other tech giants including Amazon and Microsoft in the running for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aimed at modernizing the military's computing systems.

The Microsoft post specifically mentioned comments by Department of Defense Chief Management Officer John H. Gibson II that the JEDI program ‘is truly about increasing the lethality of our department.' 

 ‘We need to put JEDI in perspective,' it said.

However, it was unclear how many employees were behind the letter. 

‘This is a secretive $10 billion project with the ambition of building ‘a more lethal' military force overseen by the Trump Administration.

‘The Google workers who protested these collaborations and forced the company to take action saw this. We do too.

‘So we ask, what are Microsoft's A.I. Principles, especially regarding the violent application of powerful A.I. technology? How will workers, who build and maintain these services in the first place, know whether our work is being used to aid profiling, surveillance, or killing?' 

When it pulled out, Google said in a statement ‘we couldn't be assured that [the JEDI deal] would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications.'  

Google says it is not bidding on a $10 billion cloud computing contract for the US military

Google says it is not bidding on a $10 billion cloud computing contract for the US military

GOOGLE'S SEVEN RULES OF AI 

Google says for its AI to be used, projects must: 

1. Be socially beneficial. 

2. Avoid creating or reinforcing unfair bias. 

3. Be built and tested for safety. 

4. Be accountable to people. 

5. Incorporate privacy design principles. 

6. Uphold high standards of scientific excellence. 

7. Be made available for uses that accord with these principles. 

 

The principles bar use of Google's artificial intelligence (AI) software in weapons as well as services that violate international norms for surveillance and human rights.

Google was provisionally certified in March to handle U.S. government data with ‘moderate' security, but Amazon.com and Microsoft Corp have higher clearances.

Amazon was widely viewed among Pentagon officials and technology vendors as the front-runner for the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud, or JEDI.

Google had been angling for the deal, hoping that the $10 billion annual contract could provide a giant boost to its nascent cloud business and catch up with Amazon and fellow JEDI competitor Microsoft.

That the Pentagon could trust housing its digital data with Google would have been helpful to its marketing efforts with large companies.

Google has been dealing with significant backlash since it was revealed that the firm is participating in a military drone project. Thousands of employees penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) urging the company to pull out of the contract

Google has been dealing with significant backlash since it was revealed that the firm is participating in a military drone project. Thousands of employees penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) urging the company to pull out of the contract

The move comes following protests by Google employees on the tech giant's involvement in separate military effort known as Project Maven using artificial intelligence to help interpret video images.

Google decided not to renew its involvement in Maven and this week backed away from the cloud computing contract, citing similar concerns about values.

MICROSOFT BOOSTS CLOUD TO BID FOR $10BN PENTAGON CONTRACT 

Microsoft Corp said on Tuesday its expanded Azure cloud service to help government clients save data on their own servers would be available by the end of the first quarter of 2019, as it battles with Amazon.com for a $10 billion Pentagon contract.

The two companies are left in the fray for the lucrative contract after Alphabet Inc's Google dropped out on Monday, saying the company's new ethical guidelines do not align with the project.

Pentagon's JEDI, or Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, cloud computing solution contract is part of the Department of Defense's efforts to modernize its IT infrastructure.

The expanded Azure Government Secret cloud service will make Microsoft ‘a strong option for the JEDI contract,' said Julia White, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure, adding that the company is capable of meeting the highest classification requirement for handling ‘top secret U.S. classified data'.

 

‘While we are working to support the US government with our cloud in many areas, we are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI Principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications,' Google said in a statement.

‘We will continue to pursue strategic work to help state, local and federal customers modernize their infrastructure and meet their mission critical requirements.'

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 purpose or implementation is to cause or directly facilitate injury to people.

WHAT IS PROJECT MAVEN?

The U.S. military has been looking to incorporate elements of artificial intelligence and machine learning into its drone program.

Project Maven, as the effort is known, aims to provide some relief to military analysts who are part of the war against Islamic State.

These analysts currently spend long hours staring at big screens reviewing video feeds from drones as part of the hunt for insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is trying to develop algorithms that would sort through the material and alert analysts to important finds, according to Air Force Lieutenant General John N.T. ‘Jack' Shanahan, director for defense intelligence for warfighting support.

A British Royal Air Force Reaper hunter killer unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight line February 21, 2014 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Military bosses say intelligence analysts are 'overwhelmed' by the amount of video being recorded over the battlefield by drones with high resolution cameras

A British Royal Air Force Reaper hunter killer unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight line February 21, 2014 in Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Military bosses say intelligence analysts are ‘overwhelmed' by the amount of video being recorded over the battlefield by drones with high resolution cameras

‘A lot of times these things are flying around(and)… there's nothing in the scene that's of interest,' he told Reuters.

Shanahan said his team is currently trying to teach the system to recognize objects such as trucks and buildings, identify people and, eventually, detect changes in patterns of daily life that could signal significant developments.

‘We'll start small, show some wins,' he said.

A Pentagon official said the U.S. government is requesting to spend around $30 million on the effort in 2018.

Similar image recognition technology is being developed commercially by firms in Silicon Valley, which could be adapted by adversaries for military reasons.

Shanahan said he' not surprised that Chinese firms are making investments there.

‘They know what they're targeting,' he said.

Research firm CB Insights says it has tracked 29 investors from mainland China investing in U.S. artificial intelligence companies since the start of 2012.

The risks extend beyond technology transfer.

‘When the Chinese make an investment in an early stage company developing advanced technology, there is an opportunity cost to the U.S. since that company is potentially off-limits for purposes of working with (the Department of Defense),' the report said.

 



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