Nov 30, 2018

Big tech and startups are hungry for defense contracts

Private companies are helping the Pentagon automatically identify objects in drone photographs. Photo: Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Google made headlines for walking away from a contract to provide intelligent software for the Pentagon — but its hesitation, a response to a staff uprising, may be an anomaly rather than an omen.

Increasingly, big tech companies and startups are flocking to show military and security officials their wares for everything from surveillance and detecting fake content to disaster relief.

Driving the news: Two events in the D.C. area this week — one hosted by the Pentagon and the other by the intelligence community — drew hundreds of private sector participants.

  • Top defense, law enforcement, and intelligence officials asked companies and academics for help developing AI-driven applications for security applications.
  • More than 300 companies attended the Defense Department’s unclassified event yesterday, and around 100 gave private presentations to officials, said Graham Gilmer, an AI expert at Booz Allen Hamilton, who participated.
  • Gilmer also attended the intelligence community’s classified event the day before, which featured speakers from the FBI, Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

In one example of the stakes, the Army announced yesterday that it had awarded a $480 million contract to Microsoft to develop an augmented reality system.

Turnout at the Defense Department event was "striking," said Gilmer. The organizers said attendance tripled since the first AI industry day last year, and Gilmer says the companies attending this year were considerably more diverse.

  • "You can tell the DoD has industry's attention," he said.
  • Booz Allen Hamilton works on Project Maven, the contract Google pulled away from. But yesterday, Gilmer presented a less controversial project: a smartphone app that can detect problems in a generator just by listening to it.
  • Predictive maintenance is one of several non-surveillance goals for which the Defense Department wants to use AI. Others include process automation and humanitarian assistance.

When it’s not inviting companies to its doorstep, the Pentagon is sending officials around the country to present a friendly face to the tech industry — and not just the defense stalwarts.

  • On the sidelines of a recent conference in Austin, Texas, the Air Force’s Jennifer Sovada told Axios that the government is responding to a shift in who develops technology.
  • "We are relying too heavily on old contractors," she said. Her focus is to reel in startups that might be jumpy about military contracting.

Go deeper: Microsoft defends work with U.S. military

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 721,584 — Total deaths: 33,958 — Total recoveries: 149,122.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 9 p.m. ET: 142,106 — Total deaths: 2,479 — Total recoveries: 2,686.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump says his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.
  4. Public health updates: Fauci says 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from virus.
  5. State updates: Louisiana governor says state is on track to exceed ventilator capacity by end of this week — Cuomo says Trump's mandatory quarantine comments "panicked" some people into fleeing New York
  6. World updates: Italy on Sunday reports 756 new deaths, bringing its total 10,779. Spain reports almost 840 dead, another new daily record that bring its total to over 6,500.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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World coronavirus updates: Cases surge past 720,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

There are now more than 720,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus around the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins. The virus has now killed more than 33,000 people — with Italy alone reporting over 10,000 deaths.

The big picture: Governments around the world have stepped up public health and economic measures to stop the spread of the virus and soften the financial impact. In the U.S., now the site of the largest outbreak in the world, President Trump said Sunday that his administration will extend its "15 Days to Slow the Spread" guidelines until April 30.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Trump says peak coronavirus deaths in 2 weeks, extends shutdown

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump is extending his administration's "15 days to slow the spread" shutdown guidelines for an additional month in the face of mounting coronavirus infections and deaths and pressure from public health officials and governors.

Driving the news: With the original 15-day period that was announced March 16 about to end, officials around the country had been bracing for a premature call to return to normalcy from a president who's been venting lately that the prescription for containing the virus could be worse than the impacts of the virus itself.

Go deeperArrow3 hours ago - Health