Google employees ask tech giant to pull out of Pentagon AI project

Some 3,000 Google employees have written an open letter urging their employer to pull out of the company’s involvement in a Pentagon project that looks to explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) on the battlefield.

A collaborative effort involving the government, industry partners and academia, Project Maven aims to “turn the enormous volume of data available… into actionable intelligence and insights,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

READ MORE: What is Project Maven? The Pentagon AI project Google employees want out of

But in an open letter addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai, Google employees expressed concern that the U.S. military could weaponize AI and apply the technology towards refining drone strikes and other kinds of lethal attacks, despite Google director Diane Greene’s insistence to the contrary.

READ MORE: Scientists threaten to boycott South Korean university over AI weapons

“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter begins, before going on to explain that Google’s involvement in Project Maven stands to damage its brand and its trust among the public.

The letter also rejects the argument that Google’s involvement isn’t problematic because the likes of Microsoft and Amazon are also partners in the project, stating that Google’s unique history and influence set it apart.

The letter concludes by asking Pichai to cancel Google’s involvement in the project, and issue a new policy forbidding Google from building warfare technology.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address for the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 17, 2017.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai delivers the keynote address for the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif., May 17, 2017.

AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File

Google has previously acknowledged internal concerns over its involvement in Project Maven.

“Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns,” the company told tech website Gizmodo in early March, but it also insisted its technology will be used for “non-offensive uses only.”

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The technology in question aims to use machine learning to improve the analysis of objects in footage captured by drone missions and other military projects.

Neither Google nor its CEO have responded to the new open letter, which was originally published in the New York Times.

Read the full text of the letter below: 

“Dear Sundar,

“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.

“Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “wide area motion imagery” data captured by US government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions and provide results to the Department of Defense.

“Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons”. While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks. 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. 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. Google’s unique history, its motto “don’t be evil”, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.

“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. Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.

“Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you:

  1. Cancel this project immediately.

  2. Draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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