Google Workers Resign Over Project Maven AI Project For US Defense Department

MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle

MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle

Project Maven aims to speed up the analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. And now word is that Google employees are quitting the company to protest against its involvement in Project Maven.

In addition to the resignations, more than 4,000 Google employees have voiced their opposition to Project Maven in an internal petition that asks Google to immediately cancel the contract and institute a policy against taking on future military work. Reports are claiming that at least a dozen Google employees have now resigned in protest to the company's participation in the project.

In April we learned that a petition was circulating at Google signed by workers who wanted the search giant to sever ties with the Pentagon and stop working on a military AI project. When the story first broke, it told Gizmodo: "The technology flags images for human review and is for non-offensive uses only".

"Any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We're actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies". The Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrates growing public concern over allowing the tech industries to wield so much power.

Other companies such as IBM and Amazon have refused to work with the Department of Defense, so it's interesting that Google is failing to take its employees' concerns onboard. The letter says Google should "commit to not weaponizing its technology" and terminate its contract with the DoD.

"The DoD contracts under consideration by Google, and similar contracts already in place at Microsoft and Amazon, signal a unsafe alliance between the private tech industry, now in possession of vast quantities of sensitive personal data collected from people across the globe, and one country's military", the letter states. "They also signal a failure to engage with global civil society and diplomatic institutions that have already highlighted the ethical stakes of these technologies".

Responding to the petition and resignations, a Google spokesperson told the Daily Express that the technology being developed under the Project Maven programme "is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives".

Google hasn't made a public comment on the matter to date and it's not helping matters on the whole transparency front.

Project Maven was commenced in April of 2017 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, who started an Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team.

Project Maven is essentially a research initiative to develop computer vision algorithms that can analyze drone footage.

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