Google Employees Petition CEO to Drop Out of Pentagon AI Project

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Recently, Google announced that it was offering its resources to the Defense Department of U.S for the Project Maven, a research initiative to develop and deploy artificial intelligence-based algorithms that can analyze drone footage.

In response, over 3100 Google employees, including senior engineers have signed a petition urging the Google CEO, Sundar Pichai to pull out of the project as they feel that Google should not be involved in the business of war.

Project Maven was first announced by the Pentagon in May 2017 as an application of next-gen machine learning to mix though bog data to obtain actionable intelligence at a quicker pace. The intention was to automate administrative tasks but Google’s artificial intelligence technology could be used in counterinsurgency and counter terrorism operations. Regardless, Google maintained the Pentagon project as a non-offensive involvement, the letter claimed that Google’s involvement would tarnish the company’s brand.

Google’s cloud operation head, Diane Greene said that the technology will not be used to operate or fly drones and also not used to launch weapons. Maven is a well-disclosed project and Google is working only on a part of it that uses open-source object recognition software available to all Google cloud customers. But the employees who signed the letter are not satisfied with this, as the technology that is being built for the defense department can easily assist in the above-mentioned tasks.

Google’s top executives, Eric Schmidt (member of the executive board of Alphabet -Google’s parent company) and Google vice-president, Milo Medin serve on the Defense Innovation board which is a Pentagon advisory body. The petition from the Google employees reflects a culture clash between Silicon Valley and the federal government. At the same time, this small fraction of more than 70,000 employees of Google may not pose a major hurdle to the company’s growth.

The letter says, “This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent”, “Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust.” and further added “The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google”,“Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.”