The corporate war to provide cloud computing for US warfighters is over.Late Friday, the Department of Defense announced that Microsoft has won the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure contract, known as JEDI. The decision was the culmination of a two-year process that also included Google, IBM, and Oracle, and where Amazon was long seen as the favorite.JEDI, potentially worth $10 billion over 10 years, has been positioned by the Pentagon as crucial to modernizing its use of technology—and making the US military more deadly.“We must improve the speed and effectiveness with which we develop and deploy modernized technical capabilities to our women and men in uniform,” DoD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy said in a statement. At an event launching the bidding process in early 2018, the department’s chief management officer, John H. Gibson II, told tech industry leaders that one priority was “increasing the lethality of our department.”
The contract fomented bruising competition among some of the world’s largest technology companies. Amazon was seen as the favorite because it dominates the cloud computing market, and already had major government contracts, including with the CIA . But IBM and Oracle both lodged formal protests, alleging that the proposal appeared to have been designed with one company in mind—Amazon.Those protests resulted in the contract passing through reviews by both the Government Accountability Office and the Court of Federal Claims, which handles claims against the US government.
Microsoft CEO Defends Army Contract for Augmented Reality Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said the company will continue to work with "institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy." GABRIEL BOUYS/Getty Images Tech workers are increasingly uneasy about their employers’ work with the US government, especially the military.
The latest on artificial intelligence , from machine learning to computer vision and moreJEDI has also highlighted the challenges tech companies that are also major consumer brands face when they work with the US government department that specializes in killing people.Google suddenly dropped out of the running for JEDI in October 2018. The company claimed it conflicted with ethical principles for artificial intelligence it had launched in the wake of employee protests over a Pentagon contract called Maven, which applies machine learning to drone imagery. Earlier this year, as the JEDI process dragged on, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had to defend against employee protests over a contract adapting the company’s HoloLens augmented reality headset for the Army. Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We’re surprised about this conclusion," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. Amazon Web Services "is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly led to a different conclusion. We remain deeply committed to continuing to innovate for the new digital battlefield where security, efficiency, resiliency, and scalability of resources can be the difference between success and failure.”The Pentagon said Friday that it plans to award more cloud contracts, to multiple vendors. Some of Microsoft’s rivals in the fight for JEDI may yet win defense contracts of their own.
Meantime, Microsoft will become a mascot for Pentagon ambitions to adapt commercial technology to defense purposes. That could lead it into contentious territory, as Google found with its Maven contract. That project helped inspire an ambitious new Pentagon AI strategy , and the creation of a Joint AI Center to speed adoption of the technology across the US military. The center is already building new AI tools, and planning to run them on JEDI.
Stanford's Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, host of the conference, defended Schmidt's role in the event in a statement.The letter opposing Schmidt's appearance points to public statements in which he was dismissive of employee complaints over a now canceled Google project that tested a search engine designed to comply with Chinese internet censorship .
Updated, 10-25-19, 10:45pm ET: This article has been updated to include a statement from an Amazon spokesperson.
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