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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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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

Exclusive: Jennifer Garner to be featured in Mother's Day vaccination campaign

Jennifer Garner. Photo by IngleDodd Media/via Getty Images

Actress Jennifer Garner will team up with the Biden administration in a coordinated campaign to encourage vaccinations around Mother's Day, Axios has learned.

Driving the news: The administration is eager to keep up the pace of inoculations now that all adult Americans are eligible but the pace of vaccinations is starting to slow.

Rideshare companies say driver shortage is pushing prices up

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

It's not just you: Uber and Lyft rides are more expensive, company executives said this week.

Why it matters: Demand for rideshare is roaring back as the economy starts to reopen, but the same can't be said for drivers on the apps. That means fewer cars on the road, causing a supply gap that's pushing up prices.

Pelosi slams GOP leadership's moves against Liz Cheney

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week condemned Republican efforts to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as House GOP conference chair.

Why it matters: A number of Democrats have spoken out against attempts to punish Cheney for her criticism of former President Trump, framing the discussion as one essential to the maintenance of American democracy.

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