I included a brief item in last week’s HMG Tech New Digest about the role of Silicon Valley tech firms in military research. Over the weekend, I spoke with some of my friends in the tech innovation community, and I found their insights on the topic highly valuable.
None of the technology leaders I spoke with seemed particularly surprised by the Pentagon’s effort to build better relationships with innovators in Silicon Valley and other tech hubs in the U.S.
Some of the tech leaders expressed reservations about the military’s use of AI in drone warfare. At the same time, they acknowledged that our adversaries are pursuing similar lines of research, and allocating substantial resources to the development of military applications for advanced technologies such as facial recognition, satellite imaging and ultra-granular weather forecasting.
What concerned them most, however, was the idea of being blindsided or caught off guard by headlines revealing that a trusted vendor also provides advanced technologies to the military. Nobody likes surprises, and no CIO wants to answer unexpected questions from a CEO or executive board about a vendor’s relationship with the military.
Whether we like it or not, relationships between tech vendors and the military have the potential to become sensitive issues. Brands and reputations can be harmed or damaged, even when the relationships are generally benign.
From my perspective, it makes sense for the technology leadership team to include questions about a vendor’s relationships with the military in the due diligence part of contract negotiations.
I’m definitely not saying that relationships with the military or the national intelligence community should be a deal breaker. But those relationships shouldn’t come as a surprise. They should be stated upfront by the vendor.
From my perspective, the role of the CIO and other senior tech executives in the modern enterprise should not be to determine whether or not to contract with vendors that also supply tech to the military. That kind of decision should be left to the board of directors.
But the CIO and the company’s technology leadership team should be aware of what their vendors are doing – or not doing – in the realm of national defense.