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Pichai takes flak for opposition to US govt by Google employees

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Google CEO has taken flak from US lawmakers for the opposition to a defence contract by company employees and claims of links to China, with one Congressman even questioning his commitment to the US and its values.

During a House of Representatives Anti-trust Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, two Republican members of the House criticised Google’s withdrawal from an artificial intelligence contract with the Pentagon in 2018 after about 4,000 employees of the tech giant demanded that it not get involved in military programmes.

In one of the harshest ideological attacks on Google during the hearing, representatives Matt Gaetz and Ken Buck, accused the company of helping China’s military.

Pichai denied that Google worked with China’s military. “It is absolutely false,” he said.

The Chinese government has banned Google.

He said that while the company had withdrawn from the Pentagon’s Project Maven, it was working on several other government projects. “We’re deeply committed to supporting the military and the US government,” he said.

He said, “We recently signed a big project with the Department of Defence to help protect Pentagon networks from cybersecurity attacks. We have projects underway with the Navy.”

Project Maven was reportedly to enable drones to better pinpoint their targets using artificial intelligence and the Google employees who opposed it cited what they said were “ethical concerns”.

Gaetz quoted Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal who sits on the board of Facebook as saying that “Google’s activities with China are treasonous”.

He said that a Chinese Academy of Sciences paper claimed that Google had “enhanced the targeting capabilities” of Chinese fighter J-20 and that former chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford had said that the company “is directly aiding the Chinese military”.

Pichai denied that Google had done anything to help China’s military and that he had met Dunford to clarify Google’s activities in China.

He said that Google had only a “handful of people” in China working on open source artificial intelligence project.

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Gaetz ended that segment of questioning saying, “When the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff says that an American company is directly aiding China, when you’re working with universities (with Chinese military links) and when your employees are talking about China ‘trembling the world,’ it seems to call into question your commitment to our country and values.”

The comment about commitment to the US and values was a deeply disturbing personal comment aimed at Pichai for the activities of Google employees.

Gaetz also cited demands by some Google employees “to stop doing business with American law enforcement saying that police broadly uphold White supremacy” and demanded a pledge from Pichai that “that Google will not adopt the bigoted antipolice policy”.

Pichai said, “We are working with law enforcement in the way that is consistent with law and due processes in the US.”

There was a strong undercurrent of party politics in the Republican attacks on Pichai as they also accused Google of having worked against President Donald Trump in the 2016 election — which was countered by a Democrat Representative.

But Pichai was also criticised by the Democrats for what they said were its monopolistic practices.

Sub-committee Chair David Cicilline said, “The evidence seems very clear to me (that) as Google became the gateway to the internet, it began to abuse its power.”

“It used its surveillance over web traffic to begin to identify competitive threats and crush them,” he said.

The hearing was on the dominance of tech giants and also featured CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Tim Cook of Apple.

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