President Donald Trump’s top supporter in Silicon Valley said Sunday the United States needs to investigate Google's "seemingly treasonous" work with the Chinese military.
In a speech at the National Conservatism Conference, tech billionaire Peter Thiel addressed China's ties to Google, Axios reports. He asked whether Google's artifical intelligence initiatives have been infiltrated by foreign intelligence agencies.
"Does Google's senior management consider itself to have been thoroughly infiltrated by Chinese intelligence?" Thiel said.
"Is it because they consider themselves to be so thoroughly infiltrated that they have engaged in the seemingly treasonous decision to work with the Chinese military and not with the US military... because they are making the sort of bad, short-term rationalistic [decision] that if the technology doesn't go out the front door, it gets stolen out the backdoor anyway?" Thiel also asked.
"These questions need to be asked by the FBI and the CIA," Thiel added, according to Bloomberg. "And I’d like them to be asked in a not excessively gentle manner."
The artificial intelligence company DeepMind is a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google's parent company, and Thiel said its technology should be thought of as a potential "military weapon."
"We've been a lot more dishonest about that in Silicon Valley than the nuclear physicists were in the 1940s," he said.
Google's connections to China have led to internal dissent and public relations problems. Working in China has led Google to make numerous compromises on its stated values of openness, most notably in its development of a search engine in China that would be subject to censorship from Beijing. That project, internally known as "Dragonfly," led to the resignation of researcher Jack Poulson, who accused the company of deceiving employees about its cooperation with China.
Thiel is a board member of Facebook Inc., another tech giant, and in his speech he was critical of the industry in general. He argued many in Silicon Valley are supporting Elizabeth Warren, who wants to break up large tech companies, because they "have a little bit of a bad conscience."
Thiel also backed Trump's trade war with China, arguing tariffs on China could be rebranded as a carbon tax and saying it's best to have a skeptical view of trade. He hit China for stealing intellectual property and did not hesitate to frame the Chinese as adversaries.
China's tech theft has national security implications for the United States, according to a Washington Free Beacon report about a Chinese spying case:
China's major telecommunications firm ZTE was offered stolen American wireless technology used in filtering electronic signals from cell phones and military communications, according to court documents in a Chinese government-linked economic spy case.
A document in the trade secrets theft case of Tianjin University professor Zhang Hao states that Zhang in 2011 emailed a representative of ZTE, China's second-largest telecommunications company and sent a PowerPoint slide containing proprietary information prosecutors say was stolen from the U.S. high-technology company Avago Technologies.
Thiel also touched on higher education, saying its "fraud" could be coming to an end, criticizing how student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. He decried the fact that well-heeled universities such as Harvard and Stanford enjoy nonprofit tax status.