Google won't renew Pentagon contract to use AI

A Google sign at its Mountain View headquarters

A Google sign at its Mountain View headquarters

Alphabet Inc's Google told employees on Friday that it would not renew a contract expiring next March to help the US military analyze aerial drone imagery, a person familiar with the matter said, as the company seeks to defuse internal uproar over the deal.

With Project Maven, Google promised Pentagon a "Google-earth-like" surveillance system that could surveil entire cities with analysts learning about any building, any person with a single click. But when news broke, Google began working to calm the nerves of employees and outside critics.

"Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo show that executives viewed Project Maven as a golden opportunity that would open doors for business with the military and intelligence agencies", Gizmodo reported.

Google, for its part, says it now intends to release a detailed set of ethical guidelines for developing artificial intelligence.

Google has been criticized for cooperating on the project, nicknamed Maven, over the Pentagon's use of drones overseas for indiscriminate killings. In a recent companywide TGIF gathering, Google Cloud Chief Diane Greene reportedly said that Project Maven was a small-scale contract with the Pentagon that was only worth about $9 million.


Project Maven has been a source of tension within Google.

The primary contractor on the project, ECS Federal, did not respond to a request to comment. This was very controversial and more than a handful of Google employees resigned in protest, while thousands signed a petition against it. Google will not renew its contract with the Pentagon on its AI drone program.

The Google workers also noted the company's well-known former motto, "Don't be evil", warning that Project Maven "will irreparably damage Google's brand and its ability to compete for talent". Another internal email from Aileen Black and published by the Intercept, however, shows the project was expected to grow rapidly, and "as the program grows expect spend is budgeted at 250 M per year". The dispute has caused grief for some senior Google officials, including Dr. Li, as they try to straddle the gap between scientists with deep moral objections and salespeople salivating over defense contracts.

Google may have also had plans for Project Maven that went beyond analyzing drone footage.

That promise has already been met with skepticism by the Tech Workers Coalition, a group calling for Silicon Valley companies "to stay out of the business of war" and develop ethics standards for AI.

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