Alphabet could potentially be risking more staff unrest, after it was reported that Google Cloud is bidding hard for work on a lucrative Pentagon contract.

According to the New York Times, Google’s cloud division has reassigned engineers to work on a proposal for Google to contribute to the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability program.

Google has previously won other Pentagon cloud contracts, but one project in particular triggered staff revolts and protests three years ago, forcing the firm to withdraw its services.

Joint Warfighting

The New York Times reports that Google is “aggressively” working on winning a contract with the Pentagon, namely to contribute to the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability program.

This multi billion dollar project is described by the DoD as an attempt to “achieve dominance in both traditional and non-traditional warfighting domains.”

The contract Google is seeking will see multiple companies submitting proposals.

A DoD document reportedly describes what cloud providers will be expected to do.

It states that anyone hoping to win a contract will have to “enable access to crucial warfighting data” with a variety of classification levels (including Secret and Top Secret data).

Additionally, the program requires that applicants be able to “provide advanced data analytics services that securely enable data-driven and timely decision-making at the tactical level.”

Project Maven

This is surprising considering what happened at Google in 2018.

Google’s involvement in Project Maven aimed to speed up the analysis of drone footage via analytics and AI.

Essentially, the search engine giant used machine-learning algorithms and AI to help the US military assess drone footage quickly, in order to distinguish people and objects in drone videos.

Almost 4,000 Google employees signed an internal petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven. Some staff even resigned over the matter.

They felt the project would “irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent”, and that Google’s involvement in the project clashed with the “don’t be evil” ethos of the search engine giant, which had been part of Google’s corporate code of conduct since the early 2000s.

But Google reportedly dropped that don’t be evil wording in 2018 from its corporate mission statement.

AI pledge

That said, in June 2018 Google announced it would not renew a contract to do artificial intelligence work for the US Pentagon, after internal pressure from staff.

And as a result of staff pressure, Google and its parent company Alphabet pledged to end the use of artificial intelligence (AI) for weapons systems.

Amazon and Microsoft instead won Project Maven contracts in September this year.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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