Speaking at the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., the Silicon Valley renegade’s speech focused on burning questions which Google must answer, according to a report in Axios.
Peter Thiel wants answers about how deeply Google’s Manhattan AI project has been infiltrated by Chinese intelligence agents. He is looking to learn if this is the reason why Google has engaged in the “seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not the US military.”
The tech investor’s questions add to the mounting pressure Google is already facing over its work in China.
Who is Peter Thiel and What Do His Comments Mean?
Peter Thiel is an entrepreneur and investor who co-founded PayPal. He’s currently a Facebook board member and is one of the most high-profile Trump supporters.
His comments take aim at Google at a time of increasing competition between the United States and China, as evidenced by the ongoing trade war. His calls for federal investigations into Google’s work in China will ramp up pressure on the tech giant as Trump’s war against big tech continues to heat up.
It will be interesting to see where Peter Thiel’s loyalties lie if it comes down to Trump vs. Facebook, which looks more likely after the President’s recent Tweets about its proposed Libra cryptocurrency.
Will the rebel billionaire’s comments lead to a federal investigation into Google for its actions in China? Perhaps, if someone with more political power decides to run with it. If nothing else, they’ll at least put more pressure on the tech giant to come clean about exactly what is involved in its AI research in China.
What is Google Doing in China?
A couple of things.
Last year, The Intercept leaked documents showing that Google was developing a censored search engine app in China named Dragonfly. This led to widespread protests from Google employees. Some 1,400 of them signed a letter of protest demanding further details on what the project entailed.
Since then, Google has claimed that work on Dragonfly has ended, but not all employees are convinced. It has also opened an artificial intelligence research center in Beijing.
In March, after Google announced that it would stop working with the Pentagon on a project to have AI analyze drone footage, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford told Congress that “the work Google is doing in China is indirectly benefitting the Chinese military.” He went on to clarify,
“It’s more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”
Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai countered that Google is “not developing AI for use in weapons.” That’s unlikely to wash with American political and military figures who understand only too well how Chinese companies and the state are deeply interwoven.
While there have been no public reports that Chinese intelligence agents have infiltrated Google, Peter Thiel’s data-mining company Palantir works closely with the Trump administration. Does he know something the public doesn’t? That’s unclear; but since Peter Thiel himself is an advisor to Trump, it’s almost certain that his concerns will soon be known to the President if they aren’t already.