Jeff Bezos plans to keep working with the US Defense Department

And the Amazon CEO says he plans to spend 'a little more' than $1B on space company Blue Origin next year

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Shara Tibken was a managing editor at CNET News, overseeing a team covering tech policy, EU tech, mobile and the digital divide. She previously covered mobile as a senior reporter at CNET and also wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. Shara is a native Midwesterner who still prefers "pop" over "soda."
Shara Tibken
3 min read
Amazon CEO And Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos  Speaks At Air Force Association Air, Space And Cyber Conference

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has expanded beyond Amazon to space venture Blue Origin and The Washington Post.

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Some companies may be rethinking their US Defense Department contracts, but Amazon's not one of them, CEO Jeff Bezos said Monday. 

Bezos, speaking at the Wired25 Conference at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco, said he will continue to support the US Defense Department. Earlier this month, cloud computing rival Google pulled out of the bidding for a $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests. Google said the project may conflict with its principles for ethical use of AI.

"If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble," Bezos said. "This is a great country, and it does need to be defended."

He added that despite its problems, the US is "still the best country in the world," and if it were up to him, he'd let anyone come to the country who wants to. 

Watch this: Jeff Bezos discusses challenges facing big tech

Bezos became the world's richest person last October, thanks to the surging value of Amazon, which he founded in 1994 in his garage and stewarded into the world's biggest e-commerce site. He still owns 16 percent of the company.

Amazon has upended the way we all shop for goods, and it's now aiming to change how we interact with our devices. The company's Alexa digital voice assistant works with more than 20,000 devices, including the new Echo smart speakers and Amazon's new voice-activated microwave. It's often considered by experts to be one of the smartest smart assistants available. And Amazon is one of the world's biggest providers of cloud computing systems. 

Sundar Pichai, CEO of Amazon rival Google, on Monday at Wired 25, said his company would continue working with the Defense Department, but not when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence for autonomous weaponry. He noted it's not just Google employees who have been concerned about the use. 

"If you talk about senior researchers working in the field, they're worried that when you're so early with powerful tech, how do you thoughtfully work your way through it?" Pichai said. 

Space ambitions

Bezos' ambitions, meanwhile, extend beyond Amazon and cloud computing. In addition to Blue Origin, he has moved into media with his purchase of The Washington Post. Last month, Bezos made good on a promise to start giving back more of his enormous wealth, announcing the Day One charitable fund and a $2 billion donation to help with education and fight homelessness.

Blue Origin competes with Elon Musk's SpaceX when it comes to space exploration. SpaceX has received more attention, both for its successes and its failures, over the past few years and is further along in developing its business. But Blue Origin technically beat Musk to the punch with the first successful rocket launch and recovery -- on land at its west Texas facility in 2015.

At Wired25, Bezos said Blue Origin "is the most important thing I'm working on, but I won't live to see it all rolled out." He added that it's important to take risks and work on things that are different from what everyone else is doing.

"You want risk taking, and you want people to have vision that most people don't agree with," he said. "We have never needed to think long term as a species. And we finally do."

Bezos said he believes in Blue Origin so much, he's investing even more money in the space company next year -- "a little more" than a billion dollars, up from his previous investment of $1 billion annually.

"I just got the news from the team," he said. Bezos added that he never says no when Blue Origin asks for money. 

"We are starting to bump up against the absolute true fact that Earth is finite," he said said. "Blue Origin, what we need to do is lower the cost of access to space."

CNET's Ben Rubin contributed to this report.

Originally published at 12:25 p.m. PT.
Update at 7 p.m. PT: Adds Google comments and shift order. 

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