CAM Colloquium: Jack Poulson (Tech Inquiry) - Some Underappreciated History of Tech Human Rights Concessions and Implications for Policy Initiatives


Frank H. T. Rhodes Hall 253


Abstract: Despite the futuristic intonation of many critical AI discussions, tech companies have long histories of trading user rights when it is strategic: Cisco built software to suppress a religious minority, Yahoo! caused the arrest of a journalist while negotiating its stake in Alibaba, Microsoft and Google modified their search engines to suppress dissent, Blue Coat repurposed workplace surveillance for authoritarian governments, and, more recently, NSO Group's phone hacking software has been used for suppressing journalism. Unfortunately, these cases are not disconnected from current policy-making. Cisco is a founding member of NetHope, a non-profit partnered with USAID. The head of the Defense Innovation Unit was replaced as CEO of Symantec by the CEO of Blue Coat. Google's loudest supporter for complying with censorship demands is Chairman of the Defense Innovation Board and the National Security Commission on AI. And NSO has two former leaders of DHS as Senior Advisors. To better understand these relationships, I will introduce the Defense Innovation Initiative and Third Offset Strategy in the context of Carter's pivot from traditional defense contractors towards Silicon Valley. The landscape of federal tech contractors will be summarized alongside limited public information on DII programs such as Kessel Run, JAIC, and DIUx. Bio: Dr. Jack Poulson completed his Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics at UT Austin in 2012, with a focus on open source, distributed-memory implementations of fast algorithms for heterogeneous 3D time-harmonic wave equations, before a brief stint as a postdoctoral scholar in Stanford's Department of Mathematics. He spent the next few years as an Assistant Professor of Computational Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and then in the Department of Mathematics at Stanford University, with his focus shifting towards fast computation of pseudospectra and interior point methods for conic optimization. He subsequently spent two and a half years as a Senior Research Scientist at Google Research, working at the intersection of natural language processing and large-scale recommendation systems. After resigning over their rollback of human rights protections, he has since served as the Founder of Hodge Star Scientific Computing and the Executive Director of Tech Inquiry.