The Ultimate Private Public Partnership?

October 7, 2020

It looks as though the line between the US government and Silicon Valley is being blurred into oblivion. That is the message we get as we delve into Unlimited Hangout’s report, “New Pentagon-Google Partnership Suggests AI Will Soon Be Used to Diagnose Covid-19.” Writer Whitney Webb begins by examining evidence that a joint project between the Pentagon’s young Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) and Google Cloud is poised to expand from predicting cancer cases to also forecasting the spread of COVID-19. See the involved write-up for that evidence, but we are more interested in Webb’s further conclusion—that the US military & intelligence agencies and big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and others are nigh inseparable. Many of their decision makers are the same, their projects do as much for companies’ bottom lines as for the public good, and they are swimming in the same pools of (citizen’) data. We learn:

“NSCAI [National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence] unites the US intelligence community and the military, which is already collaborating on AI initiatives via the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and Silicon Valley companies. Notably, many of those Silicon Valley companies—like Google, for instance—are not only contractors to US intelligence, the military, or both but were initially created with funding from the CIA’s In-Q-Tel, which also has a considerable presence on the NSCAI. Thus, while the line between Silicon Valley and the US national-security state has always been murky, now that line is essentially nonexistent as entities like the NSCAI, DIB [Defense Innovation Board], and DIU, among several others, clearly show. Whereas China, as Robert Work noted, has the ‘civil-military fusion’ model at its disposal, the NSCAI and the US government respond to that model by further fusing the US technology industry with the national-security state.”

Recent moves in this arena involve healthcare-related projects. They are billed as helping citizens stay healthy, and that is a welcome benefit, but there is much more to it. The key asset here, of course, is all that tasty data—real-world medical information that can be used to train and refine valuable AI algorithms. Webb writes:

“Thus, the implementation of the Predictive Health program is expected to amass troves upon troves of medical data that offer both the DIU and its partners in Silicon Valley the ‘rare opportunity’ for training new, improved AI models that can then be marketed commercially.”

Do we really want private companies generating profit from public data? 

Cynthia Murrell, October 7, 2020


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