The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) wants to collaborate with Silicon Valley firms, Defense Secretary Ash Carter (above) told an audience last week at Stanford University.
Like any massive enterprise, the U.S. military is highly dependent on cutting-edge technology. Unlike most companies, it doesn’t need to worry about turning a profit, which means it can spend decades and billions of dollars on even the most problematic projects, despite recent across-the-board attempts to cut costs. According to the DoD’s news service, Carter wishes to partner with private enterprises on “everything from autonomy to robotics to biomedical engineering and 3-D printing; power, energy, propulsion to distributed systems, data science [and] the Internet of things.”
In his speech, Carter claimed that many popular commercial technologies—from Apple’s Siri to Google’s self-driving cars—stemmed from research funded at least in part by the federal government.
In order to foster that collaboration with tech firms, the DoD will set up a research unit (termed the Defense Innovation Unit-X, or DIUX) to scout and support startups in Silicon Valley. “This is particularly important, because startups are the leading edge of commercial innovation,” Carter told the audience, “and right now, DoD researchers don’t have enough promising ways to transition technologies that they come up with to application. I want to fix that too.”
From the DoD’s perspective, such initiatives make sense: Cutting-edge technologies allow the military to maintain its battlefield strengths. But while some private firms would be more than happy to accept defense funding, some tech companies are still irate at the CIA, NSA, and other government agencies over longstanding electronic surveillance.