Google’s pursuit of military cloud deal was among top issues at last week’s all-staff meeting

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  • Google CEO Sundar Pichai and cloud chief Thomas Kurian addressed employees’ concerns about the company’s attempt to win a controversial contract with the military.
  • Ahead of Thursday’s weekly staff meeting, the subject of the contract is one of the most voted in Google’s internal system, which collects questions for the event.
  • Kurian said the company could pursue at least some parts of the Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) program, which is replacing the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI).

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At Google’s weekly all-hands meeting on Thursday afternoon, CEO Sundar Pichai and cloud boss Thomas Kurian tried to allay concerns about the company’s potential exploration of a multibillion-dollar cloud deal with the Defense Department.

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A question about Google’s involvement with the government’s Joint Warfighting Cloud Capability (JWCC) program received so many votes by employees in an internal system called Dory that it was brought up to officials at the meeting.

Pichai read the question aloud, referring to a new York Times Reports from earlier this month. That story said Google is actively pursuing JWCC after the Pentagon canceled an earlier deal, the Joint Venture Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, in July. The question received nearly 1,000 employee votes.

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Businesshala obtained audio of the incident, known as TGIF, and viewed a screenshot of the question.

Pichai said, “The NYT reports that Google is aggressively pursuing the DoD’s Joint Warfighting Cloud capability, despite not bidding on its predecessor (JEDI) because it’s not working on its AI principles (weapons or technologies). who harm),” Pichai said, reading from the question on Dory. “What changed? What is the quote about and why is it okay?”

Kurian responded by attempting to sever the contract from Jedi, a $10 billion deal that produced a legal battle between Amazon and Microsoft before the government canceled the contract altogether.

“Recently, there has been some discussion about Google’s interest in participating in the framework,” said Kurian, who joined Google in 2018 after a long career at Oracle.

“If they are selected as one of the compliant vendors, we are proud to be working with DoD to help them modernize their operations,” said Kurian, reading out a script. “There will be many areas where our product capabilities and our engineering expertise can be tolerated without conflict with Google’s AI principles.”

Google established its AI principles after refusing to renew a government contract called Project Maven, which helped the government analyze and interpret drone video using artificial intelligence. Before the deal ended, several thousand employees signed a petition and dozens resigned in protest of Google’s involvement.

Google pulled out of bidding for the JEDI contract in part because Kurian “couldn’t be sure” it would align with the company’s AI principles, he said at the time.

Kurien explained on Thursday how DoD is the world’s largest employer with nearly three million employees. He said the JWCC is designed as a “procurement framework” for the 28 core agencies within the DoD. He also highlighted other tasks Google has done for the US government, such as helping weather forecasting agencies, working with the military to detect cancer, and helping the Air Force with aircraft maintenance.

Pichai and Kurian are navigating a sensitive issue for Google, as the company tries to bolster its cloud-computing division with high-profile deals, while an increasingly assertive and politically charged employee base Calms it down too. While Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are still major shareholders in parent company Alphabet, they retired from their executive positions in 2019, marking a dramatic cultural shift for a company once known for its idealism. Was.

Kurien is not expecting all his employees to back down on JWCC.

“We understand that not every Googler will agree with this decision,” Kurian said. “But we believe Google Cloud should serve the government where it is able to do so and where the work meets Google’s principles and our company’s values.”

‘No single seller’

Google went into more detail on this topic a blog post Which was published by Kurien on Thursday evening. In the post, Kurian described JWCC as “essential to the success of the department and government in reducing costs, driving innovation, increasing productivity and enhancing cyber security”. He said the DoD should seek help from multiple vendors, including Google Cloud.

Kurian outlined that point in the meeting, telling employees that multiple vendors would be on the deal, potentially giving each the option to choose where they want to focus.

“This means that no single vendor will have to do all the work considered under the framework,” he said.

Kurian said Google has not yet placed a bid, and does not know all the details as the request for proposal has not been sent by the government. He did not address a specific detail from the Times story, which said that Google’s cloud unit had already prioritized the task of declaring it “code yellow”, which would allow the company to pull engineers on the military project. allows.

A Google spokesperson told Businesshala in an email that a “multi-cloud strategy” is the best solution for the government and added that the company will evaluate “future bidding opportunities” with its public sector customers, including DoD.

Pichai told employees at Thursday’s meeting that he hoped the discussion helped clarify the company’s position.

“I think we are strongly committed to working with the government in a way that is consistent with our AI principles,” he said.

Watch: Google and C3 AI team up to develop AI in the cloud

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