Silicon Valley VIP Eric Schmidt is set to chair the Pentagon’s newly formed Defense Innovation Advisory Board. According to Inc., Schmidt will be working with Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to hire 12 of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest to sit on the board. The board will not be involved with military operations, but instead will focus on improving internal operations at the Pentagon. Like many companies and organizations in Silicon Valley, the Pentagon is subject to many of the same hurdles. The U.S. Department of Defense released a statement regarding the board and it’s purpose.
“The board’s mandate is to provide department leaders independent advice on innovative and adaptive means to address future organizational and cultural challenges, including the use of technology alternatives, streamlined project management processes and approaches – all with the goal of identifying quick solutions to DoD problems. “
Uhh Alphabet’s Eric Schmidt is joining the Pentagon’s new innovation board https://t.co/55iFtKaqRA— Steven Carraher (@StevenCarraher) March 3, 2016
Eric Schmidt is a Silicon Valley billionaire. He was formerly CEO at Google and is now Executive Chairman of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company. This new venture will not be the only dealings that Schmidt or his company has with the DoD. Boston Dynamics, which was acquired by Google (technically Google X or just X) in 2013, has held contracts with both the Pentagon and DARPA.
The Defense Innovation Advisory Board is not the Pentagon’s only attempt to recruit talent from Silicon Valley.
The Wall Street Journal reports, “the Pentagon already has a Silicon Valley outreach office to improve its relationship with the tech community and find ideas that could have military applications.”
While in Silicon Valley, Ash Carter also revealed that they would be launching a “hackathon to test the Pentagon’s public-facing websites” in April called, “Hack the Pentagon.”
The hacking event will not be open to just anyone. Participants will be vetted by the DoD and must be U.S. citizens.
It was indicated that these events are not meant to bring Alphabet, Google, or any other technology company into full cooperation with the government’s wishes. Rather, it is to bring professional insight and talent from the industry into the culture within the government to advise them on what steps to take to make them better capable of applying the same proven techniques to government projects and infrastructure.
However, the efforts to bring Silicon Valley innovation to the Pentagon is not without some controversy. The Inc. article alludes to the possibilities of the military weaponizing robots developed by Boston Dynamics having implications similar to “any number of Hollywood killer robot” movies. While Boston Dynamics has nothing to do with this purposed partnership directly, Inc. seems to be be drawing this conclusion using guilt by association.
Eating or being eaten? Schmidt now on Pentagon board. Hillary's people in Google and Google running her campaign https://t.co/aU7xXz7hOn— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 2, 2016
Similarly, the WSJ article suggests that the push for new tech innovation is being spurred on by the dispute between the FBI and Apple. Ash Carter indicated that the industry should offer more cooperation on government encryption policies.
He also issued what seemed to be a veiled threat stating, “It would be better to work this out than have a law written.”
While his statement was certainly not said or meant with any malice, it’s implication is clear: it would be better to cooperate with the government than to be forced to cooperate by legislation. This is a very provocative statement by a government official in a time when trust in the government is at an all-time low.
The Pentagon’s moves to recruit minds from the private sector seems to be an effort improve their capabilities in regard to technological innovation. On one hand, improving cyber defensive measures can protect the United States from intrusions and attacks from enemy states, which can make America safer and more secure. On the other hand, if the government gains superiority over tech companies, the possibilities of using these advances on the citizenry increases. This double edged sword is what makes this issue controversial.
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