The chairman of Google's parent company, Alphabet, is launching a new partnership with the Pentagon to bring a little bit of Silicon Valley-style innovation to the U.S. military. It's a collaboration that highlights the many and often contradictory roles that the world's most valuable company must try to play.
In the new effort, Eric Schmidt will be teaming up with U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to establish a new Defense Innovation Advisory Board. According to a press release from the Pentagon:
The new board is an effort to enhance DoD's culture, organization and processes by tapping innovators from the private sector, in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Carter and Schmidt will select up to 12 other innovators and tech leaders to serve on the board, which Schmidt will chair.
To be clear, the Pentagon says the board won't be advising on military operations or strategy, focusing instead on the type of internal issues faced by startups and larger organizations:
The Defense Innovation Advisory Board will seek to advise the department on areas that are deeply familiar to Silicon Valley companies, such as rapid prototyping, iterative product development, complex data analysis in business decision making, the use of mobile and cloud applications, and organizational information sharing.
In 2013, Google purchased advanced robotics company Boston Dynamics, which had received funding from the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), but has since tried to cut ties between the company and DARPA.
If you've seen the latest humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics, Schmidt's new relationship with the Pentagon should give you pause, even if the new board is just trying to improve workflows. Put a gun in the hands of this thing and the similarity to any number of Hollywood killer robots is unmistakable.
To muddy the waters of the massive company's relationship with the massive executive branch even further, Google also plans to file a friend of the court brief supporting Apple in its spat with the FBI over unlocking an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter.
Google and other huge Silicon Valley companies will surely continue to walk this tightrope of being all things to all parties -- helpful and patriotic mentor to a sclerotic government bureaucracy; multinational corporation loyal to a global customer base; defender of privacy; liberator of information.
This is a tough balance to strike, but being the world's most valuable company surely provides one heck of a safety net.