Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin are right: A global leader in artificial intelligence will emerge, achieving enormous international clout and the power to dictate the rules governing AI. As Americans working in the technology industry, we disagree with those leaders only about which country that should be.
The world is safer and more peaceful with strong U.S. leadership. That requires the U.S. government to maintain its advantage in critical technologies such as AI. But doing so will be difficult if Silicon Valley’s rising hostility toward working with Washington continues. In June, Google — acceding to a protest letter signed by about 4,000 employees — announced that it would not renew a Pentagon contract for an AI program called Project Maven when it expires next year.
Other Silicon Valley companies, such as Microsoft and Amazon, have recently faced internal and external criticism for providing tools that aid U.S. law enforcement or border control.
We understand that tech workers want to build things used to help, not harm. We feel the same way. But ostracizing the U.S. military could have the opposite effect of what these protesters intend: If tech companies want to promote peace, they should stand with, not against, the United States’ defense community.
Silicon Valley takes pride in advancing new ideas. But it should not dismiss some old ideas, including the one that says the United States is a force for good. The United States will never be perfect, but it remains a stable liberal democracy with strong institutions, the rule of law and protection of individual rights. Around the globe, authoritarianism is rising, democracy is under attack, and ever more complex security threats are emerging.
Those of us specializing in advanced technologies such as AI, autonomous drones, and augmented and virtual reality can help ensure that the United States maintains superiority over increasingly aggressive challengers. Technological superiority was crucial to U.S. military success in World War II, kept the Soviet Union at bay during the Cold War and enabled the United States to deter untold armed conflicts over the past half-century.