David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
from the world's big
Start Learning

Amazon set to be next big U.S. defense contractor — critics urge for 'effective oversight'

"We seem to be racing toward a new configuration of government and industry without having fully thought through all of the implications," Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told MIT Technology Review.

Image source: SOPA Images / Getty
  • The U.S. Department of Defense is choosing between Amazon and Microsoft as the winner of the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract.
  • JEDI is a massive cloud-computing deal reportedly worth $10 billion.
  • Amazon appears to be the favorite. But it remains unclear how such a partnership between industry and government would affects concerns over privacy and the storage of sensitive military data.

In 2007, Amazon and the U.S. engaged in virtually zero collaboration, and the company even fought a government subpoena for customer information related to a fraud case. But now, Amazon could soon become one of the government's largest defense contractors, an unprecedented move that raises questions about the changing relationship between government and big tech.

Tech companies have spent years competing for the U.S. Department of Defense's Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, a cloud-computing deal reportedly worth $10 billion. The winner would be tasked with centralizing military information and providing access to cloud-computing services for various projects. For the massive deal, the government is seeking a single contractor, a decision that's prompted no shortage of controversy.

"Single award is advantageous because, among other things, it improves security, improves data accessibility and simplifies the Department's ability to adopt and use cloud services," DOD spokesperson Heather Babb told TechCrunch.

Google dropped out of the running last year, and though Microsoft remains in the running, critics have said the contract appears "gift-wrapped" for Amazon, which already has a $600 million deal with the Central Intelligence Agency. In August, the Pentagon ordered a review of the award process after President Donald Trump said the deal appears to be rigged in favor of Amazon, whose Amazon Web Services is the largest cloud-computing provider in the world.

"It's a very big contract," said President Donald Trump in August. "One of the biggest ever given having to do with the cloud and having to do with a lot of other things. And we're getting tremendous, really, complaints from other companies, and from great companies. Some of the greatest companies in the world are complaining about it."

Besides favoritism, what are some of the concerns about the world's largest retailer assuming such a powerful role over the nation's most sensitive data?

President Donald J. Trump

Photo credit: Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Image

One concern is Amazon's outlook on privacy, informed by how the company markets its facial recognition technology. Amazon has developed facial recognition technology that's already being used in some U.S. police departments. Stephen E. Arnold, a specialist in intelligence and law enforcement software, told MIT Technology Review that he thinks Amazon's push into local law enforcement is just the start of a larger strategy.

"Amazon wants to become the preferred vendor for federal, state, county, and local government when police and intelligence solutions are required," Arnold said, adding that he predicts Amazon will then move on to international markets.

Amazon said in a statement:

"We feel strongly that the defense, intelligence, and national security communities deserve access to the best technology in the world. And we are committed to supporting their critical missions of protecting our citizens and defending our country."

It's worth noting that, compared to other Silicon Valley companies, Amazon seems relatively unconcerned about the potential problems associated with facial recognition technology, choosing to move forward with government collaboration while other companies have held back.

But perhaps the biggest consequences of the JEDI contract are the one that remain unpredictable.

"We seem to be racing toward a new configuration of government and industry without having fully thought through all of the implications. And some of those implications may not be entirely foreseeable," Steve Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, told MIT Technology Review. "But any time you establish a new concentration of power and influence, you also need to create some countervailing structure that will have the authority and the ability to perform effective oversight. Up to now, that oversight structure doesn't seem to [be] getting the attention it deserves."

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Protesters demanding action against climate change

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
Keep reading Show less

What is counterfactual thinking?

Can thinking about the past really help us create a better present and future?

Jacob Lund / Shutterstock
Personal Growth
  • There are two types of counterfactual thinking: upward and downward.
  • Both upward and downward counterfactual thinking can be positive impacts on your current outlook - however, upward counterfactual thinking has been linked with depression.
  • While counterfactual thinking is a very normal and natural process, experts suggest the best course is to focus on the present and future and allow counterfactual thinking to act as a motivator when possible.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…