Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., reacts during an event in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

Trump Says He Met With Google’s Pichai, Talked Military and ‘Political Fairness’

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he met Wednesday with Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai to discuss the U.S. military amid an extended political furor over the tech giant’s efforts in China.

The meeting didn’t appear on Trump’s official schedule. Pichai planned a meeting Wednesday in Washington with General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to a person familiar with the matter. Google extended the invitation after Dunford criticized the search giant’s artificial intelligence work in China, which he said “indirectly benefits the military.”

Trump said in a subsequent tweet that he and Pichai also discussed “political fairness and various things that Google can do for our country. Meeting ended very well.”

“We were pleased to have productive conversations with the president about investing in the future of the American workforce, the growth of emerging technologies and our ongoing commitment to working with the U.S. government,” a Google spokeswoman said in a statement.

Pichai’s Wednesday meeting capped off a two-day visit in Washington, where he and Google’s new policy chief, Karan Bhatia, met with other administration officials and congressional leaders, according to a person familiar with the meetings. This person asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

Google’s strained relationship with the military began last year. The company inked a deal in late 2017 to provide artificial intelligence and cloud software for Project Maven, a Defense Department program to analyze drone footage. But the contract spurred a startling, widespread backlash inside Google, where a group of employees opposed the deal, citing political and ethical concerns.

Last June, Alphabet Inc.’s Google announced it wouldn’t renew the contract. The company also released a set of principles laying out that its AI tools would not be used for deadly weapons, but didn’t rule out working with the U.S. military.

Google’s conflict with the Pentagon escalated later in the year. Reports surfaced that Google was working on a search service in China. The company had pulled its search engine and most commercial products from China in 2010, but it continued to pursue the world’s largest market -- expanding initiatives around mobile computing and AI. Those efforts prompted a strong rebuttal from lawmakers.

Trump and Republican lawmakers have also complained that tech companies, including Google, discriminate against those with conservative views. When Pichai testified before Congress in December, the executive was grilled about potential bias as well as Google’s work in China. Pichai said the company had “no plans” to launch a search service in China, but stopped short of ruling it out in the future.

Pichai, who took over as CEO in 2015, is a company veteran, but a political novice. The hearing before a House committee in December was his first testimony in front of Washington lawmakers. He and Larry Page, CEO of Google parent Alphabet, declined an earlier invitation with executives from Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to appear at congressional hearings on election interference and misinformation.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.