Science, Technology, and Social Media

Google Ends AI Program With Pentagon After Employees Resign In Protest


by Kyle Perisic

Google was set to help develop an artificial intelligence program to help military drone strikes reduce the number of civilian casualties — that is, until 12 employees resigned from the company in protest and another 3,000 signed an open letter blasting the program as evil.

Google had an employee meeting to discuss whether AI should be used in the military, The New York Times reported on May 30. Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud, announced the decision on Friday at an employee meeting, Gizmodo reported. There is a current contract with the Pentagon that expires in 2019, but it will not be renewed.

Drone strikes have had varying degrees of accuracy and have left some civilians dead in the wake of their attacks. The project with the Pentagon, called Project Maven, aimed to implement the AI technology to pinpoint and determine what particular objects are in drone footage, thereby increasing the accuracy of the drone strikes, The Daily Caller News Foundation reported on March 6.

The are some criticisms of AI being used in the military, and outspoken critics like Elon Musk speculate that AI in general is itself an existential threat to humanity.

“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that [artificial intelligence]. So we need to be very careful,” Musk said, The Guardian reported in October 2014. “I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish.”

Google’s involvement in Project Maven was supposed to be kept under wraps, and leaked emails reveal that employees at Google struggled to decide when or if to reveal its role in the project.

But when the news broke in March that Google was a part of Project Maven, 12 Google employees resigned and more than 3,000 signed an open letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, asking him to terminate the contract.

“By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google,” the letter stated. “Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.”

Google happened to remove its “Don’t Be Evil” motto from the preface of its Code of Conduct some time between April 21 and May 4, archives show, 18 years after introducing it.

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