“Don’t Be Evil”: Google and the Pentagon

Google’s unofficial motto is “Don’t Be Evil”, but now some 3,100 employees are protesting the company’s work with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence technology by quoting this same message. They state that they “believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” and want the Silicon Valley titan to “enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” It’s an idealistic stance, and one that is terribly misguided. These sorts of partnerships are essential to the future of American national security.

The 2018 US National Defense Strategy explicitly focuses on the “reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” with what it calls “revisionist powers” like Russia and China. These powers increasingly are using technological warfare as part of their military arsenals and are funding that development with state resources at a rapid pace.

We all know about Russia’s cyberattack on the 2016 US election, but lesser known are their assaults on foreign elections and hacking of critical infrastructure in Ukraine. Russian military and intelligence groups have attacked a variety of European nations’ elections, including France, Germany, Norway, Bulgaria, Austria, and (not surprisingly) Ukraine. They were behind the infamous NotPetya virus, which attacked critical computer systems in Ukraine (on their Constitution Day, no less), swiping and wiping data from financial entities like banks and energy firms, as well as government officials and an airport. Russian intelligence also targeted the Ukrainian power grid in 2015, leading to disruption of service to over 200,000 customers, destruction of electrical infrastructure, and even (maddeningly) use of a Denial of Service (DDoS) strategy to shut down the call centers for those who lost power.

China Supercomputer
China’s Sunway TaihuLight supercomputer, the fastest in the world.    Image Credit: Daily Mail

The Chinese are working just as hard to cement their advanced warfare capabilities, specifically in an effort to counter the advantages of the United States military. They are by all measures winning the race to develop high-quality artificial intelligence, using strong state sponsorship to attempt to create a $150 billion native industry by 2030. China has far more people than the US does, and collects significantly more data on its citizens than we do; this allows them to rapidly use large scale data analysis to ‘train’ and improve their AIs on a broader scale than the US can. The Chinese government has vowed to “vigorously use governmental and social capital” to dominate the AI sector across the globe. China is already leading the world in supercomputers, having 167 of the 500 most powerful supercomputers and the fastest one currently in existence. They (as well as the Russians) have developed significant space warfare capacities, creating and testing various lasers, missiles, and space robots designed to take out orbiting satellites, particularly those so crucial to US military navigation, logistics, and communication systems.

All of this is not meant to worry you, as I firmly believe that the United States can and will regain its strategic advantage in these areas (the National Defense Strategy is a good start). I instead bring these examples up because they show how deeply the Russian and Chinese governments (and military) are invested in these technologies and industry sectors. Decades ago, the US military was on the front lines of innovation too, with DARPA (the Pentagon’s in-house research agency) pioneering such amazing and revolutionary technologies as GPS and the Internet. Today, that spirit of invention is still active in the US, but it has largely shifted from direct government control to that of independent business (and I do not lament this change). However, these newly empowered companies need to understand how important it is for American national security that these technologies continue to be developed both for civilian and military use. They must realize that accelerated development of these technologies by our adversaries will not only endanger the nation’s security, but their own business interests. Who is to say that the Chinese government will only target American military satellites and not our commercial satellites as well? They have already shown a propensity for hacking into our companies and stealing valuable consumer data and intellectual property, so I do not think it is wise to trust them to abdicate this approach.

Thus it is a necessary “evil”, to use the words of the unhappy Google employees, to work hand in hand with the government and military to secure America’s national (and economic) security from foreign threats.

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