The Lacking Relationship Between Silicon Valley Giants and the Department of Defense

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has made his fourth trip to Silicon Valley to talk about innovation. He is the only one of his earlier predecessors to visit Silicon Valley in 20 years.

Carter makes these visits because he feels the relationship between the technology elitists and the Defense Department. He has said he feels the gap has increased since the Snowden leaks. Once upon a time, this relationship was a very strong one. From the GPS, to the Internet, even the iPhones infamous Siri began her life as a collaboration of Stanford Research Institute and the Department of Defense. Further beyond this, Dave Packard, one of the counter-parts responsible for Hewlett-Packard, was the Deputy Secretary of Defense during the time Nixon was in office.

“I am committed to building and rebuilding the bridges between our national security endeavours at the Pentagon and innovators throughout the nation from the tech entreprenuers in Silicon Valley,” Carter said at the Defense One Tech Summit in June. This statement closely resembles the statement he made at Stanford University.

When hit with criticism, Carter points to the creation of the Defense Innovation Board this year. Eric Schmidt of Google, and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman sit as board members. The board includes pilot programs; such as Hack the Pentagon.

Carter has acknowledged the Department of Defense has lost a lot of its advanced technology influence, and his efforts reflect his feelings.

“Silicon Valley is a long way from its roots when it was funded by the DoD. Most start ups and innovative companies are unwilling to expose their intellectual property and go through the paperwork of dealing with the government so they choose not to pursure government ventures,” says Stanford professor Steve Blank.

Lux capital co-founder Josh Wolfe shares the same feelings about dealing with the government and DoD in particular.

“Our mantra is to move fast and break stuff. And then we have these meetings with the Defense Department that are formal and bureaucratic.

For over five years, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a robotics competition where companies from the U.S. and abroad competed. Google ended up buying the majority of the competitors when it made the push into robotics. When google bought these companies, it said that there would be no more communication with the DoD.

“Google doesn’t want them to engage with us, even though Boston Dynamics’ early technology was paid for by the Department of Defense,” Director of the DoD’s National Security Technology accelerator, Adam Jay Harrison said.

The Department of Defense is the world leader in funding high-risk, high-pay-off technology. But too many high-tech businesses and start-ups are turning their backs on us. We are no longer inventing the future. Others are, That’s something we have to change,” Harrison added.

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