Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Amazon, Microsoft Battle To Build Pentagon's War Cloud

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Yesterday the Associated Press reported that Amazon and Microsoft, the two finalists, are "battling for the $10 billion contract to build the US military's first 'war cloud' computing system."

Formally called the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), the cloud will store and process vast amounts of classified data---using artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning.

The contract is scheduled to be awarded by August.

AP's story involves who should get the contract.

My thoughts turned to George Orwell's novel, "1984"---then to the question, "Is this a good thing or a bad thing?"

Be informed.

AP's story is long and deep dives into who should get the $10 billion and why. And the fact that Oracle and IBM were eliminated from the competition and Oracle has filed suit claiming that Amazon and the Defense Department have become too cozy.

I have a different interest in this story. A concern that we be informed regarding this new era of government surveillance---even though the intent is to make us more safe and secure.

Benjamin Franklin once said: "Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

And yes, I am fully aware that Franklin made that statement in the context of a dispute over the family of the Penns wanting to donate family lands to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in exchange for the Assembly acknowledging that it did not have the authority to tax it.

But the principle stands.

Ronald Reagan had a healthy view of such things: "The most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help."


George Orwell was brilliant and insightful. In his book, "1984", Orwell warns of "Big Brother."

He writes, "(O)stensibly the leader of Oceania, a totalitarian state wherein the ruling party, Ingsoc, wields total power 'for its own sake' over the inhabitants."

In Orwell's society, every citizen is under constant surveillance by the authorities, mainly by telescreens. The people are constantly reminded of this by the slogan, "Big Brother is watching you."

We all know the slogan, even if we've not read the book.

The striking parallel in modern times cannot be missed.

Orwell's government was extraordinarily competent in its totalitarian imposition of technological power, but in reality, no government in the history of the world has ever been "competent."

Seton Motley makes the connection in his article titled, "Big Government and Big Tech Are Partnering To Track Us Everywhere."

He says, "For Orwell's Big Brother dystopia to become reality---Big Government would need private sector help. Enter private sector Big Tech."

He says, "We're there."

He has a point. We should be informed and alert---but not frightened.

How Google and Amazon are spying on you.

Studies show that digital assistants (Google Home and Amazon Echo) can be "awake" even when users think they aren't listening.

The devices listen all the time they are turned on---and Amazon has envisioned Alexa using that information to build profiles on anyone in the room.

Amazon filed a patent application for an algorithm that would let future versions of the device identify statements of interest, such as "I love skiing", etc., enabling the speaker to be monitored based on their interests and targeted for related advertising.

A Google patent application describes using a future release of its smart Home System to monitor and control everything from screen time to hygiene habits, to meal and travel schedules and other activities.

Amazon has already been caught spying on users through Alexa. Thousands of their employees are listening to users conversations in their homes.

It has also been reported that Amazon-owned "Ring"---the doorbell device---has been spying on customer camera feeds.

In fact, Amazon is already partnering with local police in some cities with populations less than 30,000 to assist in collecting video evidence in the case of a crime such as theft of packages from the porch, etc. Interestingly, in some cases, taxpayers are actually paying for the Amazon "Ring" doorbell devices.

Microsoft Windows 10 is spying on almost everything you do.

And even our old friend Facebook is spying on you as we speak.

The power of Big Tech.

"Big" is an understatement.

Look at the financial power of just the 4 biggest ones.

  • Microsoft Market Cap: $1.1 trillion
  • Amazon Market Cap: $942 billion
  • Google Market Cap: $775 billion
  • Facebook Market Cap: $550 billion

These four "friends" are worth a combined $3.7 trillion. Our nation's entire economy is $19.4 trillion.

These 4 companies alone are worth 19% of the United States economy.

How much should we trust Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook?

These companies are already spying on us.

The only way Big Government in Orwell's novel could have pulled off the scheme was to have had a private tech partner that actually knew how to get things done.

All this is what caught my attention in the Associated Press story. Not necessarily who would get the contract.

The development of a "War Cloud" will certainly be helpful to our military to do their job and keep us safe.

There's no question in my mind that President Trump, and most likely the leaders at the Pentagon, have the best interests of our country---and we citizens--in mind.

However, things (and leaders) change.

Jefferson is often quoted as saying, "The price of Liberty is eternal vigilance."

But it was lawyer, politician and judge John Philpot Curran who said:
"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt."

And it was Peter (I Peter 5:8) who reminded us to "Be sober, be vigilant..."

Be informed, but don't worry. God is in control.

Be Vigilant. Be Informed. Be Discerning. Be Wise. Be Prayerful.