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- Peter Thiel published a New York Times op-ed on Thursday attacking Google for doing AI 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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Billionaire Silicon Valley investor and Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel doubled down on his attack on Google conducting AI research in China on Thursday.
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 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 naïve," writes Thiel.
"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 is symptomatic of attitudes in Silicon Valley, which he said is marked by an "extreme strain of parochialism" that means it is "incurious" about "problems of other places."
Thiel offers no specific evidence to indicate Google is developing AI for military use, rather he says that any company which operates in China is liable to have its products used by the Chinese military.
"No intensive investigation is required to confirm this," he writes — despite having previously called on the FBI and CIA to investigate the company in a "not excessively gentle manner" last month.
He also makes mention of DeepMind, the London-based AI startup Google acquired in 2014, and in which Thiel was an early investor. Thiel said that founder Demis Hassabis described the company as a "Manhattan Project" for AI, 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 a number of projects ongoing with the US Department of Defense.
Thiel is a board member at Facebook, a company that competes directly with Google for ad dollars. He is also the cofounder of big data analytics company Palantir, whose work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in targeting illegal immigrants for deportation has been sharply criticised. Palantir has also partnered with the US military.
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