Move over, YCombinator. The hottest and not-troubling-at-all new startup accelerator is the army!
The US army is running a competition that will give startups that create winning new weapons technology a cash prize of up to $200,000. First spotted by Engadget on the government’s Challenge.gov website, the program is called xTechSearch and is intended to connect the US army with “nontraditional defense partners,” (beyond the mega defense contractors it usually works with).
“The Army wants the innovation community to explore the full ideation space and the art-of-the-possible,” the competition description reads. The art of the possible! Wow!
The competition comes at a rocky time for the military’s relationship with the tech world. Recently, engineers at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have been in open revolt against working with the US military and law enforcement agencies, in an effort to live up to driving tech industry principles like “don’t be evil.” The army’s outreach to startups could be the military’s attempt to establish a foothold in crucial new technology such as A.I.
To be clear, though, this isn’t just a search for new communications tech or other more battlefield-removed tech like cloud computing and A.I. The competition specifically calls for “innovations” in missiles, artillery, tanks, and soldier “lethality in close combat.”
“xTechSearch is a novel approach for linking innovators directly with the Army labs, with a focus on lowering the entrance barriers and spurring innovation,” reads the description.
With China’s recent declaration that it wants to become the global leader in A.I., the army has to get its new tech from somewhere — especially since it looks like the world’s biggest tech companies may not be willing to play ball.
Earlier this month, Google published its “A.I. Principles” in which it declared that it would not use A.I. tech to make weapons or “cause overall harm.” That came in response to employee revolt on the A.I. team to Google’s military government contract known as Project Maven. Employee protests to the contract caused Google to sever ties with the Pentagon.
Employees at Microsoft and Amazon have also recently protested their companies’ work with the US government. Amidst the migrant family separation crisis, Vanity Fair reported growing outrage within Microsoft for its cloud computing contracts with ICE. Over at Amazon, employees are protesting the company’s sale of facial recognition software ICE and law enforcement, which was first put on blast by the ACLU.
The US military isn’t going to back out of the global high-tech weaponry arms race just because employees in Silicon Valley aren’t cool with war. Reaching out to startups directly ensures that they’ll have access to that cutting edge talent, without the PR shitstorm that working with a Google or Amazon can inspire. Whether the tech of these companies has the potential to save lives, or make war even more lethal, will depend on how our government actually makes use of so-called the “innovation” they’re so keen to get their hands on.