More than 3,000 Google employees have appealed for CEO Sundar Pichai to pull the company out of the Government’s Algorithmic Warfare Cross Functional team or what most popularly known as the Project Maven.
For the project, Google will help the Department of Defense in developing artificial intelligence that will analyze surveillance videos and improve precision during drone attacks. The employees contend that Google, together with its subsidiaries, should distance itself from the country’s interest in building “warfare technology.”
Google Staff Voice Concerns Internally
The employees have decided to write a letter to Pichai, explaining point-by-point their objections about the matter. The letter highlights that Google is now struggling to keep the public’s trust because fears about weaponizing AI have now overwhelmed them. If its association with the Project Maven continues, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon, and General Dynamics – companies that manufacture both commercial and military weapons.
“Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable,” the letter reads.
The letter demands immediate cancellation of the project and for Pichai to recognize Google’s moral and ethical responsibility. It also asks for the CEO to, instead, publicize and enforce a policy that will prevent its contractors from participating in any similar projects.
The Pentagon has announced the project in April 2017. The DoD’s announcement at the time has specified that it is imperative for the department to integrate AI and machine learning across its operations to maintain advantages against increasingly capable adversaries.
Prior to Google’s involvement, the purpose of Project Maven is to decrease the time that analysts spend with administrative tasks, such as manual data encoding. With AI’s intervention, the project aims to skip some tasks and go directly to analyzing data. When Google AI comes into the picture, however, the Project Maven now includes a system for parsing video and identifying targets and civilians.
Google Hints At Continuing Involvement With Project Maven
Google provides a statement to The New York Times regarding the issue. The company does not directly refer to the employee’s letter but contends that any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. It asserts that its involvement with the Government’s project is for “non-offensive purposes.”
Google highlights that Pentagon is using “open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer… The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work.”