Microsoft wins the Pentagon's long-contested JEDI cloud computing contract

(Office Snapshots)

The fight for the Pentagon's 10 year, $10 billion contract to overhaul its cloud computing systems is over, and Microsoft has won.

The bidding war, which included Amazon, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, involved months of scrutiny and interference by President Trump, who repeatedly questioned whether the winning bid should go to Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos, who the president often criticizes.

The JEDI contract, which stands for joint enterprise defense infrastructure, was announced in 2018.

The contract calls for an overhaul of the Pentagon's computer systems. Microsoft will likely build and deploy an enterprise version of its Azure Cloud Computing platform, which includes basic storage infrastructure along with its bundled machine learning, image recognition and sensor-enabled ambient computing features that make up the higher end cloud computing market.

The project may cause controversy inside Microsoft, whose employees, like those at Google, have protested the idea that their work could be used in war or by the military.

Like the increasingly competitive private cloud computing market, the JEDI contract was the focus of intense competition among the the US's top cloud providers.

Amazon was long thought to be the most likely pick. Amazon Web Services is the market leader in cloud computing, and the company previously built cloud computing systems for the CIA.

"We’re surprised about this conclusion," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson told news outlets.

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The Militarization of AI

October 29th

In 2001 -- years before Tesla, autonomous taxis and the current AI development race -- Congress mandated that one-third of all military ground vehicles should be unmanned by 2015. That deadline has come and gone, but it shows: the days of the military having technology ahead of the private sector may be over, but the ambition is still there.

While it may or may not lead to terminator-like robots, AI-enabled technologies like image recognition, predictive modelling, and computer vision will almost certainly be used in a wide range of military operations and tasks.

Many technologies originally developed for consumer facing products may find their way to militaries, according to Wired:

Algorithms good at searching holiday photos can be repurposed to scour spy satellite imagery, for example, while the control software needed for an autonomous minivan is much like that required for a driverless tank. Many recent advances in developing and deploying artificial intelligence emerged from research from companies such as Google.

And while large tech firms and other leading AI development groups take varied approaches to the ethics of their work -- how to care for user privacy and safety on their platforms, for example -- defence ministries and governments around the world are developing their own unique rules for how to use AI.

In the US, tech companies have become increasingly unwilling to work with the US military. Google, for example, pulled out of a drone project (called Project Maven) with the department of defense after employees petitioned against the waponization of AI. It also chose not to bid on JEDI, a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract, saying that "we couldn't be assured that it would align with our AI principles."

In China, large tech firms are more willing to work on military projects, though the link between its private sector and the military is not clear. Huawei, it was discovered, has worked with the People's Liberation Army on at least 10 research projects, some involving the use of AI to analyze satellite imagery.

However, the explosion in AI research and development in China hasn't translated to the military, at least not yet. From the Council on Foreign Relations:

Many observers assume that because Chinese state-capitalism blurs the lines between state and private, those lines are in effect frictionless. In reality, the opposite is true. The eleven large state-owned enterprises that comprise China’s defense industrial base, many of which until the late 1990s were Maoist-era relics, have largely cordoned themselves off from the actual economy. Although the Chinese Communist Party has established internal Party committees in large technology enterprises like Baidu and Tencent to promote Party loyalty, that linkage has not necessarily allowed China to easily translate its booming tech sector into military might.