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Defense Secretary Mattis predicts bigger defense role for private technology firms

  • A new Department of Defense unit with offices in Silicon Valley "will grow in influence ... and its impact on the DoD," Defense Secretary James Mattis says.
  • Mattis' comments suggest a potential untapped market for Amazon and Google.
  • The 2-year-old Defense Innovation Unit Experimental, or DIUX, advised by Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt, has already implemented technology in the Middle East.
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis
Eric Thayer | Reuters
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis

Defense Secretary James Mattis says he sees a growing role for the technology industry in defending the United States.

The comments suggest a potential untapped market for Amazon and Google, whose hometowns Mattis visited this week on a West Coast swing, and other large companies like Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

Like the leaders of these tech companies, Mattis is focused on acquiring more expertise in artificial intelligence.

The difference is his goal: getting it into the U.S. military faster, to make it a "more lethal and more effective" fighting force.

"Many of the advances [in AI] are out here in private companies," Mattis told reporters after touring the Mountain View, California, location of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental.

What Mattis referred to as "the DIUX" is a new arm of the Defense Department designed to speed the adoption of new technologies into the military.

Already the unit, whose advisors include Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt, has reportedly had its software deployed in the Middle East for use in on-the-fly targeting of weapons systems, according to a report.

"We'll get better at integrating AI advances out here into the U.S. military," thanks to the unit. Mattis said DIUX will "grow in influence and impact" on the Pentagon.

Schmidt and Raj Shah, the DIUX chief since May 2016, visited Al Udeid, a U.S. military base in Qatar, where the unit's software was installed.

The DIUX unit located near Google will have a staff of 75 by next summer, up from the current 48, according to a presentation given in advance of Mattis' question and answer session.

During his meeting with reporters, Mattis also said the U.S. military was "ready" to respond to the threat from North Korea.