Enterprise

Google Cloud’s top AI executive is caught between academic ideals and corporate reality

Talking with Andrew Moore, Google Cloud’s VP and GM for AI, reveals a disconnect between Google’s bold plan for a government AI data cloud and an academic’s goals for collaborative, global AI research.

Andrew Moore

One of Andrew Moore’s most important and visible tasks involves defining what a national AI research cloud might look like.

Photo: CMU

It’s nothing new to hear Google executives talk about happenings inside different divisions of the company as though they’re separate entities. But when the head of Google Cloud AI talks about the company’s detailed proposal for a government AI project that he is closely involved in as though it were conjured up in some distant universe, it’s confusing, to say the least.

In this case, that executive is Andrew Moore, Google Cloud’s vice president and general manager for AI and Industry Solutions. An academic at heart, Moore is reluctant to speak as a Googler when it comes to the company’s plan for a federally funded AI research cloud. But his arms' length separation from the company’s proposal reveals that Google views it just as much a political gambit as a cloud-services sales call to the government.

Moore was a computer science professor at world-renowned AI research university Carnegie Mellon before first joining Google in 2006 to head up its Pittsburgh engineering office. A fish out of water, perhaps, he returned in 2014 to the university as the dean of its School of Computer Science.

Now, Moore is back at Google; he still works from his digs in Pittsburgh, the city he calls “the center of the world for the most advanced forms of robotics and mathematical AI.” And although Moore was born in England and has a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, some say his accent has morphed over the years into something that sounds a bit less British and a bit more mid-Atlantic.

The ecosystem Moore is immersed in now that he’s back corporate-side — Moore has had no affiliation with Carnegie Mellon since he rejoined Google in 2019 — is one very familiar to an AI researcher: the cloud. At Google, Moore helps customers coax their machine-learning prototypes into active algorithmic systems operating in the wild. Those projects, like the academic research that gave birth to today’s productized cloud-based AI tools, require massive amounts of computing power and data, and that’s what the cloud is all about.

Right now, one of Moore’s most important and visible tasks involves defining what a possible national AI research cloud might look like. That involves deciding who will provide cloud services to AI researchers in the U.S., and how.

Google has particularly bold ideas about how this would-be National AI Research Resource might be built and how the company should be involved. The thing is, even though Moore is helping determine what the resource could be, he said he had nothing to do with the company’s proposal for it.

“My role is as a commissioner on this panel ... The panel did a request for information from a whole bunch of companies. And Google was one of the companies that responded, but I was not the author of that,” he said regarding the proposal for the controversial project. “My role within the commission was watching what many stakeholders — not just the cloud companies — but also other smaller and [medium-sized] companies are saying."

A Google exec at arms' length from Google

There’s little question that the modern world of data and AI driven by cloud computing requires a new approach to advanced research.

“There is an old-fashioned way of thinking of doing these very data intensive bits of research, which is, you put some servers in your laboratory, your lab at the university, and you download a whole bunch of data. And you do your work there, and you've got your grad students and yourself sitting there warmed by your servers, sitting next to you humming away,” he said.

That on-campus server scenario has become more and more rare, of course. “So as a dean, I would have new faculty members coming to me. When they're talking about their startup packages, they would talk about, 'Well, I need such and such a number of servers with this much disk space to operate.' But as time has gone by, that's turned into folks saying, ‘I need cloud credits.’”

A federal AI cloud and data repository could be a game-changer for academic researchers, but Google seems to recognize the political implications, too. Indeed, according to Moore, it was the company’s public policy team, its government affairs division, that put together Google’s NAIRR proposal. A Google Cloud spokesperson clarified that the document was drafted by “many teams at Google that care about the success of the task force,” but did not provide the names of those teams. Google Cloud does have a team dedicated to managing work for public-sector clients, for example.

Moore is Google Cloud’s top AI executive, but he distanced himself from that role when answering Protocol’s questions about Google’s approach to the NAIRR initiative. For instance, rather than explain why Google wants to partner in the project with AWS, Microsoft and other cloud providers, companies it competes with in the cutthroat cloud industry, he said, “I'm not going to talk about Google specifically, like it's particularly different from the others.”

Instead, the on-again, off-again university educator emphasized the lack of computing power and data resources available to academic AI researchers, and lamented the lure of corporate work. “Many of those academics, they look around, and they see opportunities for themselves in industry, doing perhaps closed research, where they would be able to get more done, but it's less useful for the country as a whole. So it's incredibly important — and this is something where you will see agreement throughout the commercial world in the United States — it's incredibly important that we support academic researchers,” he said.

Legitimate concerns and momentous decisions

Although Moore does not consider himself a Google mouthpiece in his position as a NAIRR task force member, he and the company have highlighted some of the very same data-security, quality and access issues.

“This is a very tough thing,” said Moore during an October NAIRR meeting. He was talking about the risk of data exfiltration, when an authorized person extracts data from a secured system and shares it with unauthorized third parties or moves it to an insecure place.

“I think this committee has a really big decision,” he continued, discussing the types of data and level of data granularity that could be available in the national research hub.

“If we’re going to do controlled data, which does not allow exfiltration, that means a lot of work by us, like tens of millions of dollars possibly of software engineering or contracts to someone to set that up. I’m on the fence between them. I could say, 'Let’s just go with safe old geology and weather and outdoor natural scenes with faces blurred and keep our life simple.' Or I could say, 'No, obviously if you’re going to work on diseases or something like that, you need patient data protected against exfiltration.' We’ve got a big, and, I think, momentous decision here, because I don’t think this exfiltration limitation thing is a small side issue for us.”

Google’s public policy team had something similar on its mind in its proposal to the task force. “Before making Google datasets publicly available for the open-source community, we spend hundreds of hours standardizing data and validating quality,” the company wrote in its response to a request for information by the task force. “This expensive error prone process, which is repeated for each analysis, not only becomes a barrier to the use of data, but also leads to problems of reproducibility in research questions,” it said, adding that “the success of a research initiative potentially involving sensitive data depends upon the ability to reliably credential users and provide granular access management.”

No worries, Google seemed to imply in its submission. Not only would the company take on the arduous task of preparing raw data flowing into the research cloud, but it would do it for free. Some have questioned Google’s motivations, arguing that getting first dibs on the raw data could grant the company privileged access to valuable information others wouldn’t see.

In his interview with Protocol, Moore said Google’s proposal presents “a very legitimate concern that there's an attempt to sort of control data like this.” However, he said, “There would be a bit more concern if we were in some world without any data rights, or discussion of data security: [if] a commercial company was licensed to take all this data, do what it wants with it and then put up its own interpretation of that data publicly.”

On the benefits of working with China

The NAIRR task force was established on recommendation from the National Security Commission on AI, which warned that without a full-fledged national effort to advance AI research in the U.S., the country could lose its leadership position in AI to China, becoming more vulnerable to AI-enabled threats. However, Moore downplayed the notion of an “AI race” between the U.S. and China.

“There's many notions of winning AI. Just as with the aerospace industry, or the cybersecurity industry, or quantum, or in the early days of engine manufacture, you're going to see international competition,” he said. “And it absolutely is the case that the U.S. funding agencies are inspired by helping keep the United States at the forefront in most areas of science and technology.”

Being at the forefront of science is one thing, but some— including people in military, cyber and data security, intellectual property law or civil and human rights arenas — believe the risk of China dominating AI advancements poses a grave threat that ought to limit collaboration in AI research and business activity between the two countries.

Moore, a scientist at his core — his Twitter bio reads, “I love Algorithms” — doesn’t see it that way.

“Among academia, for example, you will see plenty of cases where there are mutually supportive, friendly, creative bits of joint work going on between different countries. And so, I want to be clear that this national security commission was not indicating that there should be no joint AI research between continents,” he said. “I think it's actually considered to be a strong benefit and a chance to sort of bring people together if there is collaboration between different researchers in this area.”

Enterprise

Why CrowdStrike wants to be a broader enterprise IT player

The company, which grew from $1 billion in annual recurring revenue to $2 billion in just 18 months, is expanding deeper within the cybersecurity market and into the wider IT space as well.

CrowdStrike is well positioned at a time when CISOs are fed up with going to dozens of different vendors to meet their security needs.

Image: Protocol

CrowdStrike is finding massive traction in areas outside its core endpoint security products, setting up the company to become a major player in other key security segments such as identity protection as well as in IT categories beyond cybersecurity.

Already one of the biggest names in cybersecurity for the past decade, CrowdStrike now aspires to become a more important player in areas within the wider IT landscape such as data observability and IT operations, CrowdStrike co-founder and CEO George Kurtz told Protocol in a recent interview.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Fintech

Election markets are far from a sure bet

Kalshi has big-name backing for its plan to offer futures contracts tied to election results. Will that win over a long-skeptical regulator?

Whether Kalshi’s election contracts could be considered gaming or whether they serve a true risk-hedging purpose is one of the top questions the CFTC is weighing in its review.

Photo illustration: Getty Images; Protocol

Crypto isn’t the only emerging issue on the CFTC’s plate. The futures regulator is also weighing a fintech sector that has similarly tricky political implications: election bets.

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has set Oct. 28 as a date by which it hopes to decide whether the New York-based startup Kalshi can offer a form of wagering up to $25,000 on which party will control the House of Representatives and Senate after the midterms. PredictIt, another online market for election trading, has also sued the regulator over its decision to cancel a no-action letter.

Keep Reading Show less
Ryan Deffenbaugh
Ryan Deffenbaugh is a reporter at Protocol focused on fintech. Before joining Protocol, he reported on New York's technology industry for Crain's New York Business. He is based in New York and can be reached at rdeffenbaugh@protocol.com.
Enterprise

The Uber verdict shows why mandatory disclosure isn't such a bad idea

The conviction of Uber's former chief security officer, Joe Sullivan, seems likely to change some minds in the debate over proposed cyber incident reporting regulations.

Executives and boards will now be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up," said one information security veteran.

Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

If nothing else, the guilty verdict delivered Wednesday in a case involving Uber's former security head will have this effect on how breaches are handled in the future: Executives and boards, according to information security veteran Michael Hamilton, will be "a whole lot less likely to cover things up."

Following the conviction of former Uber chief security officer Joe Sullivan, "we likely will get better voluntary reporting" of cyber incidents, said Hamilton, formerly the chief information security officer of the City of Seattle, and currently the founder and CISO at cybersecurity vendor Critical Insight.

Keep Reading Show less
Kyle Alspach

Kyle Alspach ( @KyleAlspach) is a senior reporter at Protocol, focused on cybersecurity. He has covered the tech industry since 2010 for outlets including VentureBeat, CRN and the Boston Globe. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and can be reached at kalspach@protocol.com.

Climate

Delta and MIT are running flight tests to fix contrails

The research team and airline are running flight tests to determine if it’s possible to avoid the climate-warming effects of contrails.

Delta and MIT just announced a partnership to test how to mitigate persistent contrails.

Photo: Gabriela Natiello/Unsplash

Contrails could be responsible for up to 2% of all global warming, and yet how they’re formed and how to mitigate them is barely understood by major airlines.

That may be changing.

Keep Reading Show less
Michelle Ma

Michelle Ma (@himichellema) is a reporter at Protocol covering climate. Previously, she was a news editor of live journalism and special coverage for The Wall Street Journal. Prior to that, she worked as a staff writer at Wirecutter. She can be reached at mma@protocol.com.

Latest Stories
Bulletins