Google's announcement on Monday came just months after the company decided not to renew its contract with a Pentagon artificial intelligence program, after extensive protests from employees of the internet giant about working with the military.
Earlier this year, Defence One reported that Google co-founder Sergey Brin and CEO Sundar Pichai were instrumental in sparking the Pentagon's interest in cloud computing, though the company had only quietly pursued a contract amid fears of a strong reaction from rank and file staffers.
The expanded Azure Government Secret cloud service will make Microsoft "a strong option for the JEDI contract", said Julia White, corporate vice president of Microsoft Azure, adding that the company is capable of meeting the highest classification requirement for handling "top secret US classified data". A dozen people resigned before Google pledged to ditch Project Maven but "continue our work with governments and the military".
"We are not bidding on the JEDI contract because first, we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI principles and second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications", a Google spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the company works with the USA government in many areas. The company later said it would entirely ban the development of AI software that can be used in weapons systems.
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Developing the system "will revolutionize how we fight and win wars", Defense Department chief information officer Dana Deasy said in a recent interview.
The JEDI contract has been a source of controversy in the past, but that was mostly due to the DOD's decision to award it to a single cloud service provider.
Google says it chose not to compete for the contract because it believes this work would conflict with its corporate principles, and because it believes it may not hold all of the necessary certifications. Amazon provides image recognition tech to the Defense Department, and Microsoft offers cloud services to military and defense agencies. For its part, IBM argued that the Pentagon's approach would only weaken its cyber defense. Amazon has said it favors the single-cloud approach for the JEDI contract.
Amazon and Microsoft are the industry's cloud market leaders. "And second, we determined that there were portions of the contract that were out of scope with our current government certifications".