Google executives announced to company staff this morning that the tech giant won't renew its contract to work on Project Maven, the controversial Pentagon program created to provide the military with artificial intelligence technology used to help drone operators identify images on the battlefield.
Wow. Kudos to all the Google employees who forced the company's hand on this.
Through Project Maven, Google provides artificial intelligence technology to the Pentagon to help humans detect and identify targets captured by drone images.
The New York Times writes that when Google purchased the artificial intelligence firm DeepMind 2014, "The acquisition agreement [.] said DeepMind technology would never be used for military or surveillance purposes".
For now, Google is on the hook with Project Maven until 2019, and then it will reportedly stop.
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The contract was reported to be worth less than $10 million to Google, but was thought to have potential to lead to more lucrative technology collaborations with the military.
A senior Google scientist once warned in an email that winning a military artificial-intelligence contract would spark a controversy beyond the company's control.
"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war", the letter stated.
More than 700 Google employees had joined an online group inside the company called Maven Conscientious Objectors, using it to vent their concerns about the project and discuss ways of protesting against it.
[.] Google meant to build a "Google-earth-like" surveillance system that would allow Pentagon analysts to "click on a building and see everything associated with it" and build graphs of objects like vehicles, people, land features, and large crowds for "the entire city", states one email recapping a Maven kickoff meeting with Pentagon representatives. Google did not respond to a request for comment.
In the message to Google's head of defense and intelligence sales, Scott Frohman, she reportedly said: "Avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI".
While the guidelines have yet to take shape, there will likely be continued unrest around Google's Pentagon contract.