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.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreement about burden sharing has gained increasing salience in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 200 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least eight Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:

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More Brexit shenanigans: Britons this week saw Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson endorse Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in upcoming elections. As a special bonus, they got to see Corbyn return the favo(u)r with a formal endorsement of Johnson. Most viewers in the UK will have understood immediately that these are the latest example of "deep fakes," digitally manipulated video images. The more important Brexit story this week is a pledge by Nigel Farage that his Brexit Party will not run candidates in areas held by the Conservatives in upcoming national elections. That's a boost for Johnson, because it frees his party from having to compete for support from pro-Brexit voters in those constituencies.

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80: More than 80 percent of the electronic voting systems currently used in the US are made by just three companies, according to a new report which warns that they are regulated less effectively than "colored pencils."

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