Employees Demand Google Stop Working With Pentagon On AI For Autonomous Weapons

Written by Ann Brown


Google is working with the Pentagon on the government’s artificial intelligence program and thousands of Google employees aren’t too pleased.

In fact, Google employees have signed a letter to Sundar Pichai, the company’s CEO, protesting Google’s role in the Pentagon’s Project Maven program, which may be used to improve drone strike targeting.

In all, more than 3,100 employees signed the letter, which has been circulating internally for weeks before becoming public via the New York Times publishing the letter. This is a small fraction of the company’s 70,000 staff members.

The letter reads: “We believe that Google should not be in the business of war…We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values.”

The letter requests that Google withdraw from Project Maven. Google, however, said its work on Project Maven as “non-offensive” in nature. Google’s contract with the Pentagon was revealed in March, and it is contrary to the company’s previous shas worked with the U.S. military.

“Both Google and the Pentagon said the company’s products would not create an autonomous weapons system that could fire without a human operator, a much-debated possibility using artificial intelligence,” The New York Times reported.

The letter, which was also signed by dozens of Google’s senior engineers, said Google is getting into the business of war by teaming up with the Pentagon.

“According to company employees, Project Maven is a specialized AI surveillance system that uses ‘Wide Area Motion Imagery’ data captured by military drones to find and track objects for the Department of Defense (DoD),” CBS News reported.

Google employees
Google San Francisco Image: Anita Sanikop

In a released statement, Google said the Pentagon was 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.”

The Pentagon is expected to spend $70 million for the first year of  Project Maven and Google is widely expected to compete with other tech giants, including Amazon and Microsoft, for a multiyear, multibillion-dollar contract to provide cloud services to the Defense Department, Gizmodo reported.

Project Maven was launched in April 2017 to accelerate the Department of Defense’s integration of big data and machine learning.

Despite the possibility of major military contracts, some Google employees say it isn’t worth it. In the letter, they argue that embracing military work could backfire by alienating customers and potential recruits.

The protesting employees used the letter to remind Google of its former motto, “don’t be evil,” and its current motto “do the right thing.”