Google employees resigning due to Pentagon drone contract

Google employees resigning due to Pentagon drone contract

Around twelve Google employees are believed to have left their jobs because of the company's decision to provide artificial intelligence to the Pentagon as part of the U.S. military's Project Maven, according to Gizmodo. Following Google's continued involvement with this, employees are now resigning from the company. Over 90 academics in the spheres of ethics, AI, and computer science this week published an open letter asking that Google back an global treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems, and ceases work with the USA military.

The controversial program is called "Project Maven", and it has Google applying its usual machine-learning and image-recognition expertise to millions of hours of drone footage collected by the military.

Google has defended their work and in a statement made last month, the company said, "The technology is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work". "Over the last couple of months, I've been less and less impressed with the response and the way people's concerns are being treated and listened to", said one resigning employee.

However, the mounting pressure from employees seems to have done little to sway Google's decision - the company has defended its work on Maven and is thought to be one of the lead contenders for another major Pentagon cloud computing contract, the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure, better known as JEDI, that is now up for bids. The New York Times reported in April that over 3,000 Google employees signed the petition. While a Google spokesperson says the program is "scoped for non-offensive purposes", a letter signed by nearly 4,000 Google employees took issue with this assurance saying, "The technology is being built for the military, and once it's delivered, it could easily be used to assist in [lethal] tasks".

"The tech flags pictures for human inspection, and is "Military usage of machine learning obviously raises legitimate concerns. I realized if I can't recommend people join here, then why am I still here?" a resigning Google employee told Gizmodo".

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Another claimed that Google execs are now less transparent with workers about controversial decisions and less responsive to employee concerns. There is no indication that the petition nor the resignations have impacted Google's decision to work on Project Maven. At a meeting shortly after the project became public, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene spoke in support of Project Maven, multiple sources told Gizmodo. The first goal of the project has been to help the Pentagon defeat the terrorist group ISIS in the hopes the AI system can enhance "military decision-making".

What's your take on Google working with the government to use AI for military purposes?

The ICRAC warned this week the project could potentially be mixed with general user data and exploited to aid "targeted killing". "These include so-called signature strikes and pattern-of-life strikes that target people based not on known activities but on probabilities drawn from long-range surveillance footage".

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

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