- Peter Thiel published a New York Times op-ed article on Thursday attacking Google for doing artificial-intelligence research in China while simultaneously refusing to do business with the US military.
- Last month, Thiel said Google was “seemingly treasonous” and called for the FBI and the CIA to investigate its workings in China.
- Thiel argues that any company working on AI in China can have that work seized by the Chinese government and used for military purposes.
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Peter Thiel, the billionaire Silicon Valley investor who cofounded PayPal, doubled down Thursday on his attack on Google conducting artificial-intelligence research in China.
Thiel first started banging the drum against Google in a speech at the National Conservatism conference last month, when he described the company as “seemingly treasonous.” He later went on Fox News to reiterate the remarks, and President Donald Trump swiftly tweeted saying he would look into Thiel’s allegations.
Now Thiel has written an op-ed article in The New York Times renewing his attack on the company, specifically the way it develops AI. Thiel takes issue with Google setting up an AI lab in Beijing in 2017, while also spiking its AI military contract “Project Maven” with the Pentagon in June of last year after an intense employee backlash.
“Perhaps the most charitable word for these twin decisions would be to call them naive,” Thiel wrote.
“How can Google use the rhetoric of ‘borderless’ benefits to justify working with the country whose ‘Great Firewall’ has imposed a border on the internet itself? This way of thinking works only inside Google’s cosseted Northern California campus, quite distinct from the world outside.”
He added that this was symptomatic of attitudes in Silicon Valley, which he said was marked by an “extreme strain of parochialism” that made it “incurious” about “problems of other places.”
Thiel offered no specific evidence to indicate Google was developing AI for military use; rather, he said any company operating in China was subject to having its products used by the Chinese military.
“No intensive investigation is required to confirm this,” he wrote – after calling last month on the FBI and the CIA to investigate the company in a “not excessively gentle manner.”
He also mentioned DeepMind, the London-based AI startup Google acquired in 2014, and in which Thiel was an early investor. Thiel said that its cofounder Demis Hassabis had described the company as a “Manhattan Project” for AI (a reference to the secret program that first developed nuclear weapons) and that Thiel should have interpreted this as a “literal warning sign.”
Google and DeepMind were not immediately available for comment on Thiel’s remarks. Google has previously said it does not work with the Chinese military and has numerous projects ongoing with the US Department of Defence.
Thiel is a board member at Facebook, a company that competes directly with Google for ad dollars. He is also the cofounder of the big-data analytics company Palantir, whose work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in targeting unauthorised immigrants for deportation has been sharply criticised. Palantir has also partnered with the US military.