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In March, it came to light that Google was working with the Pentagon on “Project Maven,” a pilot program to help develop computer vision technology for its drones. Employees were not happy with the announcement, and now, 3,100 staffers have signed a letter demanding Google end its involvement in the project.
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter opens. “Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”
Project Maven, otherwise known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT), is a research program to help the Department of Defense (DoD) better integrate machine learning and big data. Google’s involvement—while reportedly not combat-related—would be to help the DoD analyze video footage captured by drones, identifying vehicles and other objects. The technology would allow the Pentagon to classify objects in 38 different categories, and also track specific individuals as they move from one location to another. The project began in April 2017, according to Gizmodo, which first reported the program’s existence.
While Google spokespeople have said that the company’s involvement is “non-offensive” and that the technology “will not be used to launch weapons,” employees are still concerned that once built, the Pentagon would be able to use this tech for whatever purpose it chooses.
In their letter, Google employees say that the partnership puts Google’s reputation at risk, and that it opposes the company’s core values.
Google responded generally with a statement to the New York Times, saying that “any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns.” It also said that the company is “actively engaged…in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic.”
In the letter opposing the defense partnership, Google employees cite Google’s old “Don’t be evil” motto. The company actually dropped that motto in late 2015 after Google transitioned into a subsidiary of the parent company Alphabet. Its motto nowadays is “Do the right thing.”
H/T Common Dreams
Update 11:05am CT, May 16: The internal petition signed by thousands of Google employees in protest of its artificial intelligence drone program with the Pentagon appears to be gaining support. Recent reports claim about a dozen employees have quit Google in protest of the controversial military program.
These are the first known mass resignations at Google caused by one of its business decisions.
Employees who stepped down cited ethical concerns about the use of AI in drone warfare and the company’s general involvement in politics and the military, Gizmodo reports. Some wrote in an internal document that they feel Google is becoming less transparent with its employees and are no longer interested in listening to their concerns. Others worry about what impact the company’s increasing involvement with the government will have on consumer trust.
In addition to the resignations, around 4,000 employees have now signed the petition opposing the company’s Pentagon project.
Christina Bonnington is a tech reporter who specializes in consumer gadgets, apps, and the trends shaping the technology industry. Her work has also appeared in Gizmodo, Wired, Refinery29, Slate, Bicycling, and Outside Magazine. She is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has a background in electrical engineering.