recommended reading

Pentagon Needs Its Own Google For All Its Data, Says Eric Schmidt

Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt

Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt // Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX/AP

The U.S. military needs an entirely new system for storing and managing data if front-line troops are to be able to find and act on information as easily as any of us can search Google, according to Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, legendary Google CEO and chair of the Defense Innovation Advisory Board.

Schmidt also chairs the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Advisory Board, a panel of technology giants that includes Jeff Bezos and Neil deGrasse Tyson. At the board’s meeting Monday, Schmidt discussed the creation of a data storing and delivery system that sounds uncannily Google-esque.

The pitch came in the form of a new interim recommendation. (The board has voted to approve and forward its previous 11 recommendations.)

Though no individual board member contributes specific recommendations, Schmidt was clearly personally connected to this one. He explained it rose from the group’s international discussions about future artificial intelligence capabilities and discussions with commanders across the U.S. military.

“In our meetings with the senior leadership, they talk about this thing called ‘data fusion,'" he said. "The fantasy goes something like: We’re going to have all these different signals; the signals will be automatically detected; the immediacy… will enable the warfighter to make a better decision."

It would work sort of the way Google does, crawling the web for new information areas, ranking them for relevance and presenting them when they match a user’s request. The proposal would require a single network that allows any operator in the world to access any and all Defense Department data with a quick query (and based on appropriate permissions levels).

Need to pull up drone footage over Kenya two days ago? Hunting for the design specs on a particular IED? If DOD has it, it should be findable and mineable at scale—but that requires putting the data in fewer places, making it findable.

Of course, Google relies on data people around the world contribute to the open web. Google itself doesn’t have to worry about hosting the information, just indexing it.

DOD can’t just send its information to the open web. But, Schmidt says, if the Pentagon could figure out a more centralized storage scheme, its leaders and commanders could take advantage of search capability at a variety of levels.

“There’s no place in the military where the data is centrally aggregated and a lot of organizations either hide the data, don’t know they have the data, lose the data or don’t care about the data,” Schmidt said. The problem, he said, ”is that the signals aren’t available and they aren’t minable. So, [data fusion is] a great strategy, but you have no way of implementing it. The reason we wanted to bring this idea up and then work it through the bureaucracy or whatever else you call it is that without some kind of data repository, set of data repositories …you are not going to be able to achieve that vision. It’s a clear bug in the strategy.”

Centralizing data would allow future machine learning and AI programs to mine the information, and at least in theory, to discover new correlations and patterns. It’s the sort of thing that today takes analysts years. In theory, if streaming data on, say, fuel costs, weapons production, mission milestones, casualties etc. were all in one place, leaders would have a much more detailed, accurate and timely understanding of the global conflict environment, how much they were ahead or behind.

Schmidt, however, cautioned that the centralization process should be gradual.

“In practice, you would never do such a broad release to the whole military, for security reasons,” he said. “You would not have one big database. But the principle is the same.”

Schmidt acknowledged that centralizing DOD data would also create new information targets whose compromise might put the nation at unfathomable risk.  

“Now, before we get too excited about databases here: The databases have to be secure,” he said. “These are secret, secret information, secured by all the computer scientists that we hire.”

But security is more a matter of will and implementation than miracle work, Schmidt said.

“Having worked with and done this for a long time, the algorithms to provide absolute security exist," he said. "They just simply have not been implemented. This is a computer science problem. Basically, if you use 2048-bit encryption”— which would take a standard desktop machine more than a million a years to break — “you use two-factor authentication, your information is not going to be leaked except by illegal activity by humans.”

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • It’s Time for the Federal Government to Embrace Wireless and Mobility

    The United States has turned a corner on the adoption of mobile phones, tablets and other smart devices, outpacing traditional desktop and laptop sales by a wide margin. This issue brief discusses the state of wireless and mobility in federal government and outlines why now is the time to embrace these technologies in government.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • A New Security Architecture for Federal Networks

    Federal government networks are under constant attack, and the number of those attacks is increasing. This issue brief discusses today's threats and a new model for the future.

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Software-Defined Networking

    So many demands are being placed on federal information technology networks, which must handle vast amounts of data, accommodate voice and video, and cope with a multitude of highly connected devices while keeping government information secure from cyber threats. This issue brief discusses the state of SDN in the federal government and the path forward.

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.