Military personnel works on a computer
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AI for the warfighter

Protocol Enterprise

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: why enterprise AI companies are taking a closer look at military contracts, cloud infrastructure companies need to think carefully about their next steps in Russia, and where enterprise tech leaders took their talents in the past week.

Spin up

Turns out, locks don’t work unless you lock them. According to Check Point Software’s latest cloud security report, misconfigured cloud services account for 27% of all cloud security incidents, by far the largest category.

AI meets DoD

Enterprise tech companies often post customer logos on their websites as signals of their sales prowess, like service medals on a military uniform. But when AI tech vendors spotlight their work with defense industry customers, it’s not always considered a badge of honor.

As talk of war and national security intensifies in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the U.S. Department of Defense is on a mission to integrate data analytics and AI into every facet of its operations, including logistics and missile technology development. While some tech companies like C3.ai see providing AI software to the U.S. military as a way to help protect democratic values — and profit — to others, it just screams killer robots.

  • When asked last week during its Q3 2022 earnings call about how the company could assist the DoD and its allies in Ukraine, C3.ai CEO Thomas Siebel did not hesitate to highlight the opportunities for enterprise AI software companies.
  • “We are very actively engaged with the Department of the Army, the Department of the Air Force and with some of the intelligence agencies in some very large projects,” Siebel said.
  • Siebel pointed to modifications made in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that streamline procurement of tech from commercial AI companies by the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, which leads integration of data- and AI-related work at the DoD.
  • “This change in federal procurement policy is very significant, basically mandating the Secretary of Defense put in procedures in place to ensure that commercial software is considered first,” Siebel said, referring to Defense Department work as “a big opportunity.”

C3.ai is just one of many tech companies joining the ranks of Pentagon AI suppliers.

  • Announced in February, up to $249 million of Joint Artificial Intelligence Center funds for AI testing and evaluation are now readily available to several AI tech providers including cloud AI companies DataRobot, Figure Eight Federal, Scale AI, Veritone, computer vision companies CrowdAI and Image Matters, and Arthur, which helps monitor AI models to avoid bias and inaccuracy.
  • “One of the ways to avoid the valley of death and one of the ways to get this technology into the warfighters’ hands is to be able to at least readily connect those vendors, those industry partners that have the technology, to the warfighter,” said Jane Pinelis, then-JAIC head of Test and Evaluation, at a 2021 event regarding a JAIC request for proposals to AI vendors.
  • Pinelis noted that test and evaluation of AI used by the DoD was traditionally thought of as “a hoop that somebody has to jump through before deployment.”
  • But she said attitudes within the DoD are shifting toward accepting the need to test and evaluate AI, and that by working with tech partners, the DoD can assess compliance with the ethical AI principles it established in 2020.

When AI tech suppliers tout their military work, “I’m pretty darn sure those companies think it’s good for business,” said Anthony Habayeb, CEO of Monitaur, which sells monitoring software to help ensure AI is fair and accurate, but has not engaged with the Defense Department.

  • “If you can help the federal government to be more fair in their use of AI, that’s pretty important,” Habayeb said, but added, “Serving the DoD is going to take a lot of resources and energy and focus, and if you’re doing that, how effectively can you serve other sectors?”
  • Still, the mere mention of AI in relation to military work doesn’t sit well with some business leaders.
  • “Our software doesn't have anything to do with killer robots. We use AI to scan invoices, not blow stuff up,” said the CTO of a software company that provides AI technologies who declined to comment on the record for this story.
  • When big tech companies have taken on defense industry work, it has spurred opposition from consumers and company employees, such as in 2018 when Google employees protested the company’s Project Maven effort to develop drone AI technology with the military, prompting employee resignations.

But these issues are complicated, said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, a nonprofit that has helped shareholders pressure tech companies including Microsoft and Amazon to establish ethical practices.

  • Because AI is used even for basic administrative purposes like automating invoices, it is important to consider DoD contracts with AI vendors on a case-by-case basis, he said.
  • “Just because you’re working with the defense industry doesn’t mean you’re doing something unethical,” Connor said. “It depends on what’s being used and when it’s being used. Context is critical.”
— Kate Kaye (email | twitter)

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The cloud infrastructure dilemma

AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud won’t accept new business in Russia in the wake of its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, but the cloud providers have stopped short of saying they’ll fully stop servicing customers there. That’s understandable, according to cloud strategist Sarbjeet Johal, because pulling the plug on existing customers could affect the delivery of critical services to Russians.

“It is really hard for an infrastructure company to stop providing infrastructure as a blanket rule … because there could be some health care companies, public safety companies which are hosting with them,” said Johal, a cloud consultant with StackPane who formerly worked for Oracle, Rackspace and VMware. “Kicking them out can put the public safety in jeopardy or danger.”

Johal believes Russia would have to do something even more drastic than attacking Ukraine — such as directly attacking the cloud providers’ employees or businesses, starting a war with the United States or launching nuclear attacks — to warrant pulling out entirely from the country.

By otherwise cutting off existing customers, cloud providers run the risk of sending a signal to other parts of the world that “if you do business with an American company, they have enough power to pull the plug on you,” he said. “Some people can use that as a proxy to not do business with U.S. companies.”

— Donna Goodison (email | twitter)

Enterprise moves

Enterprise tech companies have been shaking up their C-suites, laying the groundwork for new approaches to IT, finance and diversity. Here are some of the people Salesforce, Seismic, Applied Materials and others brought on board over the past week.

Juan Perez joined Salesforce as CIO. Perez previously led digital transformation efforts at UPS.

Hayden Stafford is the new president and CRO of Seismic. Stafford was most recently a president at Pegasystems, and held leadership roles at Microsoft, Salesforce and IBM.

Brice Hill joined Applied Materials as SVP and CFO. Hill was most recently the CFO of Xilinx, and was a finance leader for Intel prior to that.

Iesha Berry is the first chief diversity and engagement officer at DocuSign. Berry previously held leadership roles in diversity and HR at Slalom, Bank of America and Microsoft.

Gregory Bryant was appointed EVP and president of Business Units at Analog Devices. Bryant was EVP and GM of Intel’s client computing group prior to joining Analog.

Rina Pal-Goetzen was named director of Global Policy for the Semiconductor Industry Association. Pal-Goetzen formerly held policy roles at Bayer AG and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

— Aisha Counts (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Remember the whole TikTok-Oracle thing? The two companies are supposedly “nearing a deal” to use Oracle’s cloud services, according to Reuters, although given the shenanigans involved the last time around, we’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, Oracle reported a 7% jump in quarterly revenue but a wider-than-expected loss on two investments.

If it’s been a while since you nerded out on silicon photonics in the data center, check out this interview with legend Andy Bechtolsheim on The Next Platform.

A MESSAGE FROM ADOBE

Get inspired as we make the digital economy personal at Adobe Summit 2022. Explore the top industry trends and insights, expand your skills, discover the latest innovations from Adobe Labs, and connect with peers and experts from around the world.

Learn more

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