The employees have spoken. Google has decided that it won’t seek additional business related to a controversial artificial intelligence project it signed last year with the Department of Defense, a move designed to placate angry employees that could torpedo its chances of winning the DoD’s huge cloud computing to be awarded later this year.
Gizmodo reported Friday that Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees that while it will fulfill its existing obligations to the Pentagon under the Project Maven contract, it will let its original contract expire in early 2019. Thousands of Google employees signed a petition earlier this year asking the company to withhold its cutting-edge artificial technology expertise from military customers, after concerns grew that Project Maven could be used for mass surveillance or targeting by enhancing and categorizing images from drones.
A Google representative declined to comment on the report.
It’s a win for whatever is left of the “don’t be evil” wing of Google, but it’s hard to imagine the company winning the single-vendor JEDI contract now, which could be worth billions of dollars in cloud computing revenue over a decade and specifically includes a request for artificial intelligence and machine-learning services. Google was already fighting an uphill battle for that contract, years behind Amazon Web Services and Microsoft when it comes to federal cloud certifications, and quietly putting together its pitch for fear of what its employees might think. That’s not exactly how the military works.
Should the Pentagon change its mind after months of insisting it wants a single vendor for all its future computing needs, it’s possible Google could capture pieces of that contract unrelated to military matters. The DoD employs more than 742,000 civilians, and they need computing power for all sorts of benign tasks.
But while the Pentagon decided this week to postpone the deadline for proposals from cloud vendors, it continued to stand by its desire for one cloud vendor to handle all of its computing needs, including battlefield support.