Michael Kratsios, deputy CTO at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, delivered a pointed message to the tech industry Tuesday: Get in line behind helping the government lead on emerging technologies, or risk letting an adversary gain the upper hand.
In his remarks at FedTalks 2018, in front of a crowd including industry representatives from Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Salesforce and more, Kratsios spoke about some of the administration’s core technology priorities — artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and broadband access. These are technologies that hold enormous potential for the American people, he said, and are ones that his office is watching very closely.
Toward the end, Kratsios’ comments took a turn for the incisive:
“As of late, some in the tech community have publicly called into question whether their values and interests still align with the values and interests of our country and fellow citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth. We should look at our role in the world honestly — if America does not maintain a technological dominance, other countries will take our place. Most likely nations who do not share our basic respect for rights, or our devotion to helping people. America remains the single greatest defender of the core values that the tech community holds dear and relies on to thrive. Those of freedom, of opportunity and innovation in the free markets. At the foundation of our common success stands our nation’s unique and long-standing guarantee of rights, the protection of American law, the stability of our institutions and the audacious spirit of the American people. These virtues cannot be exported abroad nor taken for granted because they exist here in America in a combination that can be repeated nowhere else on earth.”
Though he refrained from naming names, the context is clear. In June, following employee petitions and unrest, Google announced that it will end a partnership with a central Pentagon AI initiative, known as Project Maven, when its current contract expires in 2019. And employees at companies like Microsoft and Deloitte have recently protested against contracts with the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency.
In an era when tech workers and federal contractors are trying to figure out where to draw the line on helping the government perform work they may find unethical or unsavory, Kratsios urged these individuals and companies to consider the global ramifications of their choices.
“America has been and remains the best place in human history to develop transformative technologies,” Kratsios said. “It is my hope that we continue to work together — our people, our government, our industry — and stand with America, and for America, because in its heart it is American.”