Google may no longer be providing artificial intelligence to the Pentagon under Project Maven, but the Silicon Valley company is moving ahead on other efforts that could ultimately support military operations.
In interviews March 9, DARPA Director Steve Walker and Vint Cerf, Google’s vice president and chief internet evangelist, pointed to projects already underway that bring together the Pentagon’s top innovation hub and Silicon Valley’s tech giant.
And yes, some involve artificial intelligence.
“DARPA has been investing for about 56 of our 61 years in AI," Walker said during an interview with C4ISRNET sister brand Defense News. In September, agency leaders announced AI Next – an effort that will filter $2 billion to AI efforts over the next five year. In addition to universities and small businesses, Walker said, “we’re even working with Google.”
Specifically, Google decided to focus on “defensive AI” projects with DARPA, he said, which essentially protect systems from malicious AI and machine learning programs. One specific project is looking at “deep fakes” – computer-generated replications of a person saying phrases, which he or she never said, or taking actions that never took place. Deep fakes have targeted politicians, but are more generally viewed as a potential tactic for information warfare. Google will contribute to efforts to better understand whether a picture or video has been tampered with.
This is “something they would, obviously, be very interested in,” Walker said.
Another DARPA effort that Google is supporting involves Moore’s Law, which states the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years while the costs are halved. Google will look at how to create more computing power without necessarily speeding up the clock, said Cerf, who is widely credited as one of the “fathers of the internet.”
“You try to put more energy into those chips and they melt, so that doesn't work,” he continued. “So we need new architectures that make it possible to extract more computing power out of new architectural chip designs. We're working very closely with DARPA on that. And there's more to come.”
Granted, defensive AI and computing power appear to be less controversial than the work Google performed under Project Maven, providing the Department of Defense artificial intelligence capabilities for drone footage analysis. Google’s decision not to renew that contract – and the employee protests that proceeded that decision – spurred a philosophical debate about whether the tech community would remain on board for development that contributes to military operations.
But Walker and Cerf both say cooperation between the two communities is already extensive.
“I don’t think it’s about these two cultures not being able to align. We are aligned in many different areas,” Walker said, pointing instead to failures in messaging and poor communication. “We’re working with [the tech community] now. We’ll continue to work with them. Government sponsors long-term research and that’s a strength of our country. But the performers, the researchers, the folks who are actually doing it are mostly in the private sector and at universities. We’ve got to maintain that private sector and university edge that I believe we have.”
As for Google, partnership with the Pentagon will continue much as it has for over a decade.
“I’m very committed to that,” Cerf said. “It’s true that there were some people, newcomers to the Google world who were not as copacetic about this, but they’re a tiny fraction. We will do the right thing. And the right thing is to cooperate with federal government, with state and local governments, with the Defense Department and the Intelligence community.”
Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.