The Tech Giants in the business of war
By TruePublica: Last week, the Verge reported that: “it was revealed (last month) that Google was offering its resources to the US Department of Defense for Project Maven, a research initiative to develop computer vision algorithms that can analyze drone footage. In response, more than 3,100 Google employees have signed a letter urging Google CEO Sundar Pichai to reevaluate the company’s involvement, as “Google should not be in the business of war.”
Google has described its work on Project Maven as “non-offensive” but the Pentagon project is always about war – after all, that’s what it does.
The letter goes on to ask that Google stop its involvement in Project Maven and that the company create and enforce a policy stating that it will not engage in building warfare technology. “This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values,” the letter states. “Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance — and potentially lethal outcomes — is not acceptable.”
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Perhaps all these wonderful people at Google had forgotten that Eric Schmidt, the former chief executive officer of Google, accepted a role over two years ago to head up a Pentagon advisory board aimed at bringing Silicon Valley innovation in what he describes as “best practices to the U.S. military” – whatever that is supposed to mean.
Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet Inc, the parent company of Google, said the board would help bridge what he called “a clear gap between how the U.S. military and the technology industry operate.”
For instance, Amazon Rekognition, an AWS Artificial Intelligence service, allows software developers to quickly and easily build applications that analyze images and recognize faces, objects, and scenes. The system is designed to match up with those on a watch-list. This application has been specifically designed for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). How it could be used is another question. One can only speculate.
Microsoft announced just last August that its new Azure system is specifically for Government and its capabilities for mission-critical workloads. One part of that project is called “Azure Government Secret” and although sold to the public as a public services software system it is, in fact, to “support government agencies and partners who have Secret classified data.” Azure Government Secret delivers its capabilities to the U.S. Department of Defense, Intelligence Community, and U.S. Government partners working within secret enclaves.
Apple is also in on the cash bonanza to profit from death. They announced involvement in a project that aims to develop sensors that can be stretched and worn by soldiers or put on the outside of ships and planes and are directly involved, according to reports dating back as far as 2011 in technical equipment designed to work in direct battlefield conditions.
In a different approach to killing people and communities in far-off lands – Facebook faces accusations that it potentially “endangered hundreds of thousands of people in conflict-ridden Myanmar.”
Six civil society and human rights organizations blamed Facebook for (allegedly) facilitating propaganda and misinformation that helped to fuel Myanmar’s suspected genocide targeting western Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya community.
Mark Zuckerberg had even praised his company’s response to anti-Rohingya propaganda, which proliferated through Facebook Messenger chain letters last September. However, Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said that Facebook “substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public,” and had played a “determining role” in Myanmar.”
The United Nations described it as “targeted Rohingya Muslims as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
American innovation and achievement is now increasingly being treated with scepticism. Apart from egregious tax-dodging strategies and employee abuses, on the one hand, these organisations have become a tool to snuff out competition, whilst on the other, they end up being involved in snuffing out real people.
Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute, said the three firms—Google, Facebook and Amazon—”have more power than any previous monopolies we’ve dealt with in the past century.“
If the tech giants are now profiting from war they will only be encouraged to innovate directly in this sector to chase ever larger government contracts. That puts them at the mercy of government – as contracts can be withdrawn.
But it’s all about the money, not morality. ‘Don’t be evil’ simply doesn’t apply anymore.