Billionaire tech investor Peter Thiel has accused Google of siding with the Chinese military. A Facebook board member, Thiel asked that Google be federally investigated. Known as one of the few Trump supporters in Silicon Valley, Thiel’s accusations have put a spotlight on Google activities in China, some of which are not in America’s
interests. He was speaking at the National Conservatism Conference.
Thiel on Google
“Number one, how many foreign intelligence agencies have infiltrated your Manhattan Project for AI? Number two, does Google’s senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence? Number three, is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the U.S. military… because they are making the sort of bad, short-term rationalistic [decision] that if the technology doesn’t go out the front door, it gets stolen out the backdoor anyway?” Thiel said during his speech (Axios).
Earlier, Google had opted out of a U.S. military contract with the argument that company involvement might lead to the persecution of innocent people. However, it was later revealed that Google was involved in creating a censored search engine for China. In 2017, Google had opened an AI lab in Beijing. The branch is well known for developing TensorFlow, a software used by machine-learning systems to analyze massive amounts of data and predict outcomes. Some fear that the Chinese communist government might eventually acquire the technology and use it to improve its spying and military AI capabilities.
Google has been on a PR overdrive after Thiel’s speech, stressing that it is not collaborating with the Chinese government. “We are not working with the Chinese military. We are working with the U.S. government, including the Department of Defense, in many areas including cybersecurity, recruiting and healthcare,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement (Fedscoop).
Google definitely looks hypocritical about not working on certain U.S. military projects due to “human rights concerns” even though it enthusiastically operates in China, a country ruled by an authoritarian government known to persecute people with differing opinions. President Trump had earlier spoken out against this double-standard in March. Following Thiel’s statements, he has promised that the U.S. government will investigate any potential links between Google and Chinese authorities.
Support for Thiel
Thiel is not alone in his observation that Google is knowingly working for the Chinese government. Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense under President Barack Obama, has called Google’s decision not to work with the U.S. military on certain projects a “mistake.” “If you’re working in China, you don’t know whether you’re working on a project for the military or not… There is a duty to this country… We’re in debt to the society that we live in,” he said in a statement (CNBC).
Richard Clarke, a former counterterrorism and cybersecurity official during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has also spoken in support of Peter Thiel, citing that Google’s work on Artificial Intelligence in China is a big issue. In March, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, mentioned that Google’s work in Beijing is indirectly benefiting the Chinese military. Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, had said that America’s innovation is being used against itself.