Acting SECDEF rebukes Google's work in China, 'lack of support' for DOD

March 14, 2019 at 1:43 PM

Top Defense Department leadership criticized Google today for an "unwillingness" to work with the U.S. military while still pursuing work in China that they say benefits the Chinese military.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on DOD’s budget posture, Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan was asked about one line in his written testimony regarding how "some U.S. companies" have voiced ethical concerns about working with DOD while still working in China.

"I think we're talking about Google and their support to China and their lack of support for the Department of Defense," Shanahan said.

After thousands of employees protested the company working with DOD on Project Maven last year, Google decided not to renew its contract on the artificial intelligence program, which is aimed at helping the military identify objects and potential targets from unmanned aerial system ISR video and images.

Google subsequently released a set of AI principles, including pledges to not pursue work on AI applications in areas of technology "that cause or are likely to cause harm," including weapons and enabling warfighting systems, surveillance technologies that violate "widely accepted principles of international law and human rights."

"They've just said they're not going to do business with the Department of Defense on certain contracts," Shanahan said today.

Meanwhile, he and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford said Google's ongoing work in China is benefitting the Chinese military.

"We watch with great concerns when industry partners work in China knowing that there is an indirect benefit," Dunford said. "Frankly, indirect may not be a full characterization of the way it really is. It's more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military."

Google has "effectively ended" a project to establish a Google search product in China, CEO Sundar Pichai told lawmakers earlier this year. The company had been criticized for designing the product to comply with Chinese Communist Party censorship rules.

But Google still has a presence in China, including the recent opening of a "Google AI Center" in Beijing.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) called Google's decision to not work fully with the U.S. military while still working in China "extraordinary."

Asked what DOD is doing to stay head of China in AI, Shanahan said the Pentagon's fiscal year 2020 budget request doubles the department’s investments in AI.

"We need to use the talent in this country," he continued. "The talent in this country needs to support our great power competition."

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