Google’s robots and creeping militarization
Google CEO Larry Page has rapidly positioned Google to become an indispensable U.S. military contractor.
Google recently purchased Boston Dynamics, a robotics pioneer that produces amazing humanoid robots for the U.S. Defense Department.
This development invites attention to Google’s broader military contracting ambitions — especially since Boston Dynamics is the eighth robotics company that Google has bought in the last six months.
Just like drones are the future of air warfare, humanoid robots and self-driving vehicles will be the future of ground warfare according to U.S. defense plans.
There are many other reasons why the U.S. military is on path to become Google’s single largest customer. Likewise these reasons indicate Google has a closer working relationship with the NSA than it acknowledges publicly.
First, consider the military value of Google’s research and development efforts and the military contracting pipeline revenue it could represent.
Page created Google X, which is Google’s secretive research and development lab tasked with pursuing “moon-shot” technology breakthroughs. So far, Google X is best known for its earth-bound self-driving cars and Google Glass.
Tellingly, the purpose of the original “moon-shots” by the Soviet Union and America was military. The two Cold War superpowers were in a “space race” to publicly showcase the technological and military supremacy of their rival ideologies.
Simply, America’s Cold War “moon-shot” was about winning the military space and arms race with the former Soviet Union.
Even more tellingly, the greatest application for most all of Google X’s “moon-shot” technological efforts — are military. Like drones, self-driving vehicles, and robot soldiers could enhance military surveillance and payload delivery while reducing risks to military personnel.
Google Glass’ advances in wearable augmented reality could offer American soldiers tactical advantages over enemy combatants. Google’s Project Loon could quickly provide a supplemental battlefield bandwidth advantage in remote areas.
Second, Google’s personnel hiring signals its aspirations for a closer Google-military relationship.
In 2012, Google hired Regina Dugan, the head of DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), DOD’s in-house “moon-shot” idea factory. At the time a Google spokesperson said: “Regina is a technical pioneer who brought the future of technology to the military during her time at DARPA. She will be a real asset to Google.”
Simply, few people could have a better insider knowledge of the U.S. military’s future technology needs that Google could exploit than Ms. Dugan.
Third, Google has a long history of working for, and with, the NSA and the other U.S. intelligence services.
In 2004, Google purchased satellite mapping company Keyhole, which was strategically important enough to be funded by the CIA’s investment fund In-Q-Tel.
Google turned the aptly-named “Keyhole” surveillance capability into the wildly popular Google Earth and Google Maps service used by over a billion people and over one million websites.
In 2008, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that U.S. spy agencies use “Google equipment as the backbone of Intellipedia, a network aimed at helping agents share intelligence.” The article also reported that Google had a support contract with the NSA.
In 2010, the Washington Post reported that Google worked with the NSA to figure out how Chinese hackers broke into Google. The New York Times later reported that those Chinese hackers stole Google’s entire password system called Gaia.
Fourth, Google has too many unique capabilities and metadata sets that are of strategic value to the NSA to believe Google’s denials that it does not work closely with the NSA.
Snowden’s NSA revelations have underscored the high value the NSA puts on collecting the metadata of who is communicating with whom, when, where, and how much.
Remember Google is metadata central. It is veritable surveillance catnip for the NSA.
Think about it. Google’s cookies track the Internet behavior of nearly 2 billion people. Over a billion people regularly use Google Search, Maps, Android, and YouTube. And about a half billion people use Gmail and Google + social media.
Former NSA Director Michael Hayden has said “Gmail is the preferred Internet service provider of terrorists worldwide.”
Thus Google has the unique capability to surveil for the NSA the online behavior of a targeted group of people by country, language, interests, keywords, names, communications, physical location, movements, time and more.
Simply put, Google’s world’s largest computer already can do what the NSA wants to do most.
Add to all this Google’s unique capability to instantaneously translate 80 different languages across applications, and why wouldn’t the NSA covet a close working relationship with Google?
Finally, the behavior of America’s greatest military rivals, Russia and China, speaks volumes about the likely extent of unreported close cooperation between Google and NSA/DOD.
Remember it was the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency that invented the Internet in the early ‘70s. It is no coincidence that Russia and China have been the most hostile to allowing Google’s Internet dominance to extend into their countries.
In summation, the accumulating evidence indicates that the U.S. military is on path to become Google’s single largest customer.
Page’s strategic positioning of Google’s biggest investments to strongly align with future U.S. military needs is no coincidence. It is likely tacit confirmation of a much stronger relationship than Google has acknowledged to date.
Page’s creeping militarization of Google will increasingly become problematic for the privacy of Google’s foreign users, which generate over half of Google’s revenues. While U.S. law purportedly prevents the NSA from surveilling Americans without a warrant, the NSA’s official mandate is to surveil foreign signals intelligence.
In short, Google’s creeping militarization means Big Brother Inc. aspires to work more closely with Big Brother government.
Scott Cleland is President of Precursor LLC, a consultancy serving Fortune 500 clients, some of which are Google competitors. He is also author of “Search & Destroy: Why You Can’t Trust Google Inc. Cleland has testified before both the Senate and House antitrust subcommittees on Google and also before the relevant House oversight subcommittee on Google’s privacy problems.