As a kid, I loved the movie, ‘War Games.’ Released during the height of the Cold War, it starred Matthew Broderick as David Lightman, a computer whiz. Bored, David successfully hacks into a video game company’s computer which asks him the movie’s tagline: “Do you want to play a game?”
David plays ‘Global Thermonuclear War’ as the Soviet Union, plotting simulated attacks against the U.S. After the media reports on actual attacks that mimic David’s, he realizes he is not playing a game.
It turns out that David unwittingly hacked into the U.S. Air Force’s new intelligent computer program that oversees its missile strike planning and command procedure. The program came about after human officers were unwilling to “turn the key” in nuclear simulations when ordered to.
Thankfully the computer eventually concludes that when it comes to nuclear war, “the only winning move is not to play.” David is relieved when the computer finally asks him to play “a nice game of chess.”
As in ‘War Games,’ the U.S. military has a long history of utilizing technology. For example, last year the Defense Department decided to replace the military’s “disjointed and stove-piped information systems” with a cloud-based commercial service. The new service will store and process vast amounts of classified data, allowing the U.S. military to use artificial intelligence to speed up its war planning and fighting capabilities. The Department claims the cloud strategy “will empower the warfighter with data and is critical to maintaining our military’s technological advantage.”
I strongly considered joining the military after the Pentagon invited bids for its JEDI project, as I was hoping to be one of the first Americans to learn how to use the Force. However, the acronym was for the $10 billion cloud computing contract, which stands for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure. Tech giants Microsoft, Amazon, Oracle and IBM all vied for the contract. Google did not bid after its employees protested about their technological advances being used in the military’s war effort.
The tech industry was shocked when the contract was awarded to Microsoft last month. According to the research firm Gartner, Amazon holds almost 48% of the market for public cloud computing, more than three times that of second place Microsoft with almost 16%. In response, an Amazon spokesperson said, “AWS is the clear leader in cloud computing, and a detailed assessment purely on the comparative offerings clearly lead to a different conclusion. We remain deeply committed to continuing to innovate for the new digital battlefield where security, efficiency, resiliency, and scalability of resources can be the difference between success and failure.”
After losing the contract, Amazon filed a lawsuit contesting the Pentagon’s decision, claiming the contract “contained clear deficiencies, errors, and unmistakable bias.” Many speculate the “unmistakable bias” stems from President Trump’s involvement in the bidding in July, when he announced the administration would “take a very long look” at the process after other companies told him the contract “wasn’t competitively bid.” On numerous occasions, the President has voiced his disdain for Amazon and its founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, who also happens to own The Washington Post.
Exhibits to the lawsuit included video clips of President Trump talking about Bezos and Amazon on the campaign trail in 2016, including one at a rally in Fort Worth, Texas, where he said, “believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They are going to have such problems.”
It seems those comments may have some nuclear fallout.