Bitter lawmakers tell Google to justify Huawei link after A.I. military deal ends

After Google decided not to renew a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, lawmakers in the United States have written a strongly worded letter to CEO Sundar Pichai voicing concerns over what it calls a “strategic partnership,” with Chinese smartphone brand Huawei. Once again, the letter refers to alleged security concerns over Huawei, and adds it’s disappointed “that Google apparently is more willing to support the Chinese Communist Party than the U.S. military.”

The letter confirms that Google has backed away from the controversial Project Maven deal it made with the Department of Defense, in which it would assist with the creation of artificial intelligence to enhance drone strike targeting systems. Google’s involvement caused an internal rift, with 4,000 Google employees putting their names on a petition urging Pichai to end the deal, and to publish a policy statement saying the company would never build technology used for warfare.

Google attempted to calm the situation with an explanation over the project’s aim, which it claimed was non-offensive and would help computers identify and avoid civilian casualties; but it was argued this technology would also would enable a A.I. system capable of selecting humans for targeting. Approximately a dozen Google employees are said to have resigned over Project Maven, which in the ultra-competitive world of artificial intelligence, may have been a cause for concern at the firm.

Bitter response

The expertise provided by Google to the Department of Defense on Project Maven will inevitably be missed. The June 20 letter to the company makes it clear Google’s decision is the driving force behind it. In it, almost mirroring the internal response Google employees had to Maven, the five senators and members of Congress urge Pichai to reconsider the partnership with Huawei, then directly adds, “particularly since your company recently refused to renew a key research partnership, Project Maven, with the Department of Defense.”

It closes by asking for a response with a, “rationale for your decision to partner with Huawei but not the U.S. military, as well as your plans to mitigate the grave risks of working with Huawei.”

In response, Google told Reuters it has dozens of agreements with international manufacturers, that it doesn’t provide special access to Google user data, and it has numerous security and privacy agreements in place to protect the data. Google added it looked forward to responding further.

Google released its policy on developing A.I. technology on June 8, confirming it won’t develop for weaponry; but would still work with the military on other applications. Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese technology company, have faced heavy criticism over alleged privacy and security issues in the U.S. during 2018.

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