WASHINGTON—The top U.S. military officer will meet with Google representatives next week amid growing concerns that American companies doing business in China are helping its military gain ground on the United States.
Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on March 20 that efforts like Google’s artificial intelligence venture in China allow the Chinese military to access and take advantage of U.S.-developed technology.
“This is not about me and Google,” Dunford told an audience at the Atlantic Council. “This is about us looking at the second and third order of effects of our business ventures in China, Chinese form of government, and the impact it’s going to have on the United States’ ability to maintain a competitive military advantage.”
Google says its AI activities in China are focused on “education, research on natural language understanding and market algorithms, and development of globally available tools.”
In a statement last week, Google said it is not working with the Chinese military. And the company said that it continues to work with the U.S. government, including the Defense Department, in many areas, including cybersecurity, recruiting and healthcare.
Dunford’s comments reflect widespread U.S. government worries that any information or data an American company has or uses as it does business in China is automatically available to the Chinese regime and its military.
U.S. companies in China are required to have a cell of the communist party present, said Dunford, adding, “that will lead to that intellectual property from that company finding its way to the Chinese military.”
Last week he and acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan expressed similar concerns during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.
“We watch with great concern when industry partners work in China knowing that there is that indirect benefit,” Dunford said during the hearing. “And frankly, indirect may be not a full characterization of the way it really is. It’s more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”
Shanahan also noted that Google is stepping away from some Pentagon contracts.
Internal protests by workers at Google led the tech company to say last year that it is dropping out of Project Maven, which uses algorithms to interpret drone video images from conflict zones. Employees had complained that Google was helping with technology that could improve lethal targeting.
Shanahan told senators that $5 trillion of China’s economy is state-owned enterprises, “so the technology that is developed in the civilian world transfers to the military world. It’s a direct pipeline. Not only is there a transfer, there’s also systemic theft of U.S. technology that also facilitates even faster development of emerging technology.”
As a result, Shanahan said the U.S. military needs to continue to invest in artificial intelligence, adding that funding would double in the proposed 2020 budget.
The Joint Staff did not release details on the timing of Dunford’s meeting next week or who would be attending from Google.