In March 2018, Google signed a contract with the Pentagon to help create artificial intelligence tools for drones to identify human ground targets without the assistance of human operators. Google insists that the technology it is developing for the US military will be for “non-offensive uses only.”
Project Maven is a fast-moving effort launched in April 2017 by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work to accelerate the department’s integration of big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning into US Department of Defense (DoD) programs. The project is formally known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team. Its official objective is “to turn the enormous volume of data available to DoD into actionable intelligence and insights at speed” for human analysts.
More than 3,000 angry Google staffers signed a petition last month demanding that the company cancel the contract and adopt a clear policy stating that it would not participate in the development of lethal warfare technology. Hundreds of academics have urged Google to abandon its work on the project. Around a dozen Google employees have resigned in protest over the company’s cooperation with the Pentagon’s Project Maven.
The resigning employee’s frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google’s political decisions and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions.
Historically, Google has promoted an open culture that encourages employees to challenge and debate product decisions. But some employees feel that their leadership no longer as attentive to their concerns, leaving them to face the fallout.
The private data collected by Google comes with a responsibility not only to use that data to improve its own technologies and expand its business, but also to benefit society. The company’s motto “Don’t Be Evil” famously embraces this responsibility. Google has nixed its unofficial motto – ‘don’t be evil’ – from its code of conduct. The removal occurred sometime in late April or early May 2018, but the change was not noticed by main stream media.