Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com and the private spacefaring corporation Blue Origin, responded to critics that questioned his willingness to work with the Pentagon this week. In recent weeks, an outspoken opposition from within Amazon has been bolstered by external support, calling on Bezos to cut ties with the Department of Defense due to the employee’s apparent discomfort with working alongside the military industrial complex.
“We are going to continue to support the DoD, and I think we should,” said Bezos. “One of the jobs of senior leadership is to make the right decision, even when it’s unpopular.”
In May, Google backed out of a deal with the Defense Department that would have seen them develop an artificial intelligence system specifically for the purposes of sifting through intelligence feeds to identify elements or people of interest that might warrant further human investigation. In effect, the system would have worked similarly to Google’s image search function, using computers to loosely identify what is depicted in the images and offering up results based on queries. Employees at Google, however, had other ideas. A significant backlash from within the company ultimately pushed Google to sever ties with the Pentagon initiative — though much of that backlash seemed to leverage a loose or entirely incorrect interpretation of the endeavor. Within Google and among many outsiders within the industry, many were convinced Google was building some sort of “Terminator” style targeting system that would be bereft of human input or oversight.
“If ethical action on the part of tech companies requires consideration of who might benefit from a technology and who might be harmed, then we can say with certainty that no topic deserves more sober reflection — no technology has higher stakes — than algorithms meant to target and kill at a distance and without public accountability,” an open letter to Google from the International Committee for Robot Arms Control stated at the time.