The global risk of weaponized tech sector

The American technology sector is moving from Silicon Valley and innovation to Pentagon and geopolitics. In this not-so-brave-new-world, weaponization rules.

IN early 2021, an official report commissioned for the White House and Congress urged the United States and its allies to reject calls for a global ban on autonomous weapons systems powered by artificial intelligence (AI). According to the report, America was “not prepared to defend or compete in the AI era.”

According to the authors, ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Pentagon veteran Robert Work, “by 2025, the Department of Defense and the intelligence community must be AI-ready.” It was an ambitious, but aspirational goal.

But what the two were really pushing was extensive public AI investment that would support private profit motives, while presumably serving the “national interest.”

Toward weaponizing AI, fighting China

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The AI initiative is touted in the name of perceived Chinese aggression: “We must win the AI competition that is intensifying strategic competition with China.” As Schmidt and his co-head Robert Work argued in their 756-page AI report, Chinese innovation must be derailed by weaponizing AI, the next big thing in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

A veteran Pentagon insider, Work served as the CEO of the controversial think-tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in 2013-2014 and as a principal in WestExec. The many CNAS fellows and WestExec partners, including Biden’s Asia czar Kurt Campbell and foreign affairs secretary Antony Blinken, are vital to the current White House.

After his stint as US deputy secretary of defense (2014-2017), Work joined the board of Raytheon, the global military contractor. Like the rest of Big Defense, Raytheon is a vital contributor to WestExec, CNAS and Schmidt’s initiatives.

Nonetheless, critics, including many scientists, shunned the AI report. They warned that the proposals risked unleashing a lethal and irresponsible arms race. “This is a shocking and frightening report,” said Prof Noel Sharkey of The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. “The most senior AI scientists on the planet have warned them about the consequences, and yet they continue. This will lead to grave violations of international law.”

The common denominator of AI and semiconductors is weaponization. What is less well understood is the private profiteering fueling decision-making that used to belong to the White House, the Congress and the Pentagon.

Multibillion dollar Pentagon plays

While public focus was on the trade war in 2017, the Trump administration initiated a broad technology battle against China. When Schmidt stepped down in late 2017 as the executive chair of Alphabet, Google’s parent, he had already overseen the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board for two years.

Now he would work to align Silicon Valley with the Pentagon. Hence, too, Google’s increasing cooperation with the Department of Defense (DoD) and his cumulative interest in targeted advisory positions. This began with a membership of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), followed by his role as the chair of the PCAST report on semiconductors (2017), Pentagon’s National Security Commission on AI and its final report (NSCAI, 2018-2021).

In mid-September, Schmidt’s own Special Competitive Studies Project (SCSP), a private NSCAI spin-out, released another report on how to exploit technology to derail China.

Known in the past as a financier of the Obama, Clinton and Biden campaigns, Schmidt has also increasingly contributed to Republican campaigns. With a net worth at $23 billion, he can afford it. In his league, political campaign finance is a bit like venture capital seed funding because even crumbs of millions can spin off fortunes of billions.

In recent years, Schmidt has invested millions of dollars in military startups; his next big thing. Meanwhile, the ties between Google, Alphabet, Schmidt, his shares and companies have grown so blurry that a federal court had to order him to turn over records to see whether he has promoted his personal business interests (see figure 1).


Schmidt as Google CEO; President Obama’s financier; with ex-Defense secretary Ash Carter; as head of Pentagon’s defense innovation advisories; philanthrope of the security alliance QUAD, which also serves as one platform for his financial pursuits (in the photo: President Biden, President Modi and prime ministers of Japan, Australia and Schmidt Future’s CEO); creator of America’s Frontier Fund; and cooperator with Michèle Flournoy, the co-founder of the controversial moneymaker West/Exec and think-tank CNAS. SOURCES: WIKIMEDIA, YOUTUBE SCREENSHOTS

From CIA’s IQT to AFF

In June, Schmidt launched a secretive fund with a powerful group of Washington insiders. The model is the CIA’s pioneering venture capital fund In-Q-Tel (IQT), founded by simulation-game expert Gilman Louie and Lockheed Martin’s CEO Norm Augustine in 1999. To oversee his new American Frontier Fund (AFF), Schmidt recruited IQT’s Louie and Jordan Blashek from his philanthropic Schmidt Futures.

The AFF partners include experts in semiconductors, supply-chain security, investment, venture capital, dual-use technologies, health care, as well as former officials of the Trump administration.

The board features Schmidt insiders, IBM’s ex-CEO, CIA’s ex-science and technology chief, Obama administration’s chief technologist, its defense secretary Ash Carter, Trump’s controversial ex-national security advisor H.R. McMaster — and ex-Pentagon hawk Michèle Flournoy, co-chairman of CNAS with Kurt Campbell, Biden’s Asia czar and ex-chief of Asia Group, still another advisory.

Like State Department head Antony Blinken, Flournoy is behind the consulting cash-cow WestExec. Like AFF which is developing investment schemes with the QUAD security alliance countries, WestExec has expanded via strategic partnerships in private equity (Pine Island Capital Partners which used to employ Blinken and defense secretary Lloyd Austin), venture capital (Ridgeline), management advisory (Boston Consulting Group) and PR advisory (Teneo).

While these partners are profitable but controversial, WestExec’s hawkish advice has been manna from heaven to CNAS’s Big Defense donors, including Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and the US-based Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO).

High profit potential, but MAD policies

Like Flournoy’s WestExec-CNAS, Schmidt’s American Frontier Fund hopes to cash in on internationalization. Among other things, it is developing investment schemes with the QUAD security alliance countries. The AFF’s launch was followed by the release of the SCSP report, which promotes America’s global competitiveness in the AI future.

In Schmidt’s view, the US must win sole global tech leadership by 2025-2030. So Chinese innovation must be undermined in microelectronics, AI and 5G; and yes, in anything that will follow in advanced technology. In each case, Schmidt, in cooperation with Flournoy, hopes to maximize profits in public investments, monopolistic finance, military start-ups and venture capital partners (see figure 2).


But here’s the problem: Since no single nation can any longer control entire supply chains in the global information communication technology sector, weaponization of the semiconductor markets – and other old and new high-tech industries — by any one country would be disastrous to the global ecosystem.

Schmidt’s high-tech policies would replace globalized industry competition with geopolitics, undermine consumer welfare and derail innovation.

In cyberspace, that’s equivalent to mutual assured destruction (MAD).

Dr. Dan Steinbock is an internationally recognized strategist of the multipolar world and the founder of Difference Group. He has served at the India, China and America Institute (USA), Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (China) and the EU Center (Singapore). On his many books on the global ICT, see his Amazon page. For more, see

This is a short version of Dr Steinbock’s commentary published by the UK-based Global Policy Journal on Oct 14, 2022.

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Dan Steinbock