By Jon Dougherty
(NationalSentinel) A decision by Google to end a contract with the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence while deciding instead to build an AI campus in China is a massive slap in the face to the U.S., where the corporation is based, and a potential national security threat to America, according to one of Silicon Valley’s few conservatives.
In a recent op-ed, Paypal co-founder and billionaire philanthropist Peter Thiel made it clear that AI is being developed for military purposes primarily, and that it is a game-changer in terms of providing countries with hyper-advanced mil-tech.
But while U.S. corporations used to make business decisions that were also good for the country, Google isn’t interested in doing that and in fact appears to be consciously siding with a potential adversary.
“The Silicon Valley attitude sometimes called ‘cosmopolitanism’ is probably better understood as an extreme strain of parochialism, that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places — and incurious about them,” he writes. In the 1950s, the cliché was that “what’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Google makes no such claim for itself; “it would be too obviously false,” Thiel added.
Google talks about what is good for the world – but “by now we should understand that the real point of talking about what’s good for the world is to evade responsibility for the good of the country,” he noted.
In his August 1 New York Times op-ed, Thiel argues that, “at its core,” AI “is a military technology.” He noted:
A.I. is a military technology. Forget the sci-fi fantasy; what is powerful about actually existing A.I. is its application to relatively mundane tasks like computer vision and data analysis. Though less uncanny than Frankenstein’s monster, these tools are nevertheless valuable to any army — to gain an intelligence advantage, for example, or to penetrate defenses in the relatively new theater of cyberwarfare, where we are already living amid the equivalent of a multinational shooting war.
That potential for military application is “the simple reason that the recent behavior of America’s leading software company, Google — starting an A.I. lab in China in 2017 while ending an A.I. contract with the Pentagon — is shocking.”
Thiel notes that since the Nixon administration, the United States’ Cold War-era thinking and attitude toward China’s leaders was one of warm indulgence. Increasingly, over the decades, U.S. leaders in both parties stepped up engagement with China, beginning with President Nixon’s visit to China in his first term to the Carter-era decision to switch recognition from Taiwan to China, to the 1990s when the Clinton White House put normalizing relations with Beijing on the same pedestal as President Obama did with Iran, and with the same “at any cost” attitude.
From the early 2000s on, China’s trade imbalance with the U.S. has allowed the country to become an economic behemoth, rising to the level of the world’s second-largest economy. At the same time, the Chinese have been revamping and modernizing their military capabilities to include asymmetric warfare (anti-satellite, cyberwar, electronic warfare, etc.).
“What is extremely strange is that this policy of indulgence continued and even deepened after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991,” Thiel wrote, long after the U.S. used China as a counterweight to the USSR in Asia.
“We tolerated punishing trade deficits in the 1970s and 1980s to support those two allies (West Germany and Japan), and we had strategic reasons to do it. As for building up China in the 1990s and 2000s, America’s generosity was supposed to somehow lead to China’s liberalization. In reality, it led to the transfer of our industrial base to a foreign rival,” he noted further.
While Google uses the rhetoric of “borderless” benefits to justify working with China, “This way of thinking works only inside Google’s cosseted Northern California campus, quite distinct from the world outside. The Silicon Valley attitude sometimes called ‘cosmopolitanism’ is probably better understood as an extreme strain of parochialism, that of fortunate enclaves isolated from the problems of other places — and incurious about them,” Thiel said.
As for Google’s mantra, he notes, “By now we should understand that the real point of talking about what’s good for the world is to evade responsibility for the good of the country” — and at a time when America is racing against both China and Russia, among others, to be the first to develop next-gen military technology that China would use for conquest and the U.S. would use for national security and to defend allies.
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