Google has been investing in artificial intelligence (AI) research for a while now. Google AI labs are spread across the world in 18 locations. One of these AI labs is operational in Beijing, China, since 2017. That hasn't gone down too well with the US military establishment which has accused Google of "indirectly helping the Chinese military."
To that effect, Google CEO Sunder Pichai isexpected to meet General Joseph Dunford. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Washington DC.
According to a report in Bloomberg, while the Department of Defence (DoD) spokesperson has confirmed the meeting of General Dunford with a senior Google official, no names were revealed. Google is also expected to address the staff of the Homeland Security Committee next Monday, about the major points of the meeting with Dunford.
The bone of contention, according to the report, seems to be Google's refusal to partner with the US military with regards to AI. Last June, Google said that Project Mavan Contracts which helped US military analyse aerial drone imagery, would not be renewed after it expired in March 2019. Project Maven had set off a revolt inside Google, as factions of employees opposed Google technology being used in warfare. The dissidents said it clashed with the company’s stated principle of doing no harm and cited risks around using a nascent artificial intelligence technology in lethal situations.
The Pentagon and the Chinese military are both major buyers of AI-based services. What makes matters difficult for Google is that its competitors such as Amazon and Microsoft have justified their need to support the US military with AI, even as they help China with AI services.
Even US President Donald Trump has accused Google of helping China and its military.
Google denied these claims stating, "We are not working with the Chinese military. We are working with the US government, including the Department of Defense, in many areas including cybersecurity, recruiting and healthcare.”
Google's Beijing AI lab website states that it is working on educational initiatives, research on natural language understanding, user experience and development of TensorFlow — Google's open source coding library which lets engineers and companies run AI programs to automate tasks.
The reasoning behind Google's Beijing AI centre has been to hire the best talent in AI, irrespective of where it is. Google executive at the time Fei-Fei Li had mentioned in a 2017 blog post after the opening of the Beijing AI centre, "AI and its benefits have no borders." Amazon and Microsoft followed Google in 2018, announcing their own AI labs in China. While China still lags the US in terms of key AI talent, it is a country that gets a lot of AI funding.
According to Dunford, the meeting wasn't going to be about Google, but about the "second- and third-order effects of our business ventures in China, Chinese form of government and the impact it's going to have on the United States' ability to maintain a competitive military advantage."