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Google’s work in China “indirectly benefits” Chinese military, says Pentagon chief

One of the Pentagon’s most senior officials has claimed that Google’s work in China “indirectly benefits” the rising superpower’s military forces.

Speaking at a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, chair of the joint chiefs of staff, Joseph Dunford, said he watched with “concern when industry partners work in China knowing there is that indirect benefit”.

“And frankly, ‘indirect’ may not be a full characterisation of the way it really is,” he added. “It’s more of a direct benefit to the Chinese military.”

His remarks came just months after Google pulled out of a Pentagon project when employees started resigning in protest over the work. The project, known as Maven, saw Google provide artificial intelligence services to the Pentagon, sparking fears the technology could be used for lethal purposes.

The application of AI in the military contexts is a controversial topic, but the US Army is already using the technology to enable tanks to fire autonomously.

While many of Google’s services are banned in China, the tech giant has an AI research centre in the country and was reported last year to be working on a censored search engine. The revelation prompted protests around the world (pictured), and claims the partnership contradicted the company’s original motto, “Do no evil.”

Google claimed to have closed down the project, but the Intercept reported earlier this month that rogue employees were investigating whether work was ongoing.

Commenting on Google’s work with the US government, chief executive Sundar Pichai told Congress in December: “As an American company, we cherish the values and freedoms that have allowed us to grow and serve so many users. I am proud to say we do work, and we will continue to work, with the government to keep our country safe and secure.”