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SILICON VALLEY’S CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS

SILICON VALLEY’S CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS

It’s not every day that a company leaves $10 billion of potential government business on the table. But that’s what Google did this week when itannounced that it no longer intends to compete for a massive Pentagon cloud computing contract ahead of a Friday bid deadline.


The news has been overshadowed by Google’s decision to shut down its Google Plus social network after a programming flaw was revealed that may have exposed the personal information of nearly 500,000 users. But the Pentagon contract is the bigger story politically, and it sheds light on an area where China may have an edge in its increasingly high-stakes technology competition with the US.

This is part of a pattern… A few months back, I wrote about Google’s decision to withdraw from Project Maven, a Pentagon initiative focused on facial recognition technology, after employees protested that collaborating with the US military ran counter to the company’s values. Google CEO Sundar Pichai later unveiled a set of principles to guide the company’s future work in AI. In explaining its decision not to bid on the $10 billion project to modernize US Department of Defense IT systems this week, Google said it “couldn’t be assured” that its work would be compatible with the ethical principles that bar it from participating in projects that could lead to human harm.

And the US government now has a problem: Google isn’t ruling out all military work. It said it would have submitted bids on (presumably less ethically problematic) portions of the contract if the Defense Department hadn’t insisted on a single vendor for the whole project. Nevertheless, its decision to walk highlights a broader issue: The US increasingly views maintaining a competitive edge in technologies like AI and cloud computing as a matter of economic and national security. But unlike the defense contractors that helped it maintain its technology edge during the Cold War, Silicon Valley isn’t particularly attuned to the goals and priorities of the US government. As Google decides to sit out on building new data centers for the Pentagon, it has also yet to publicly respond to US Vice President Mike Pence’s call last week for it to halt a project to introduce a new, censorship-compliant version of its search technology in China.

China faces no such challenge: The internet giants driving China’s bid to become a global tech superpower aren’t state owned, but they are way more aligned with Beijing’s national priorities. Alibaba, China’s leading cloud company, has been tapped to lead the creation of the “city brain” that will power a huge new smart city under construction southwest of Beijing, which the government intends to use as a showcase for next-generation technologies. In recent years, China’s ruling Communist Party has establisheda presence inside some of the country’s leading tech firms – part of a broader push under President Xi Jinping to assert more control over the private sector. If Beijing ever invited bids on a project to shift its military IT systems to the cloud, it’s almost inconceivable that tech giants with the relevant skills would shy away from the opportunity.

The US has plenty of other assets it can draw on in the race for 21st century tech supremacy, but private sector support for national technology goals is one area where China has a distinct advantage.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

On Tuesday night, you can finally watch Trump and Biden tangle on the debate stage. But you TOO can go head to head on debate night .. with your fellow US politics junkies.

Print out GZERO's handy debate BINGO cards and get ready to rumble. There are four different cards so that each player may have a unique board. Every time one of the candidates says one of these words or terms, X it on your card. First player to get five across wins. And if you really want to jazz it up, you can mark each of your words by taking a swig of your drink, or doing five burpees, or donating to your favorite charity or political candidate. Whatever gets you tipsy, in shape, or motivated, get the bingo cards here. It's fight night!

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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