Project Maven: Google Employees Resign Over Pentagon Contract

Tech experts boycott AI program analyzing objects from drone footage

About a dozen Google employees have resigned in protest over the company’s involvement in a Pentagon AI program known as Project Maven.

“Project Maven focuses on computer vision — an aspect of machine learning and deep learning — that autonomously extracts objects of interest from moving or still imagery,” according to Marine Corps Col. Drew Cukor.

“There is no ‘black box’ that delivers the AI system the government needs, at least not now,” he said. “Key elements have to be put together…and the only way to do that is with commercial partners alongside us.”

That’s where Google comes in. But some employees have resigned due to ethical concerns of AI in drone warfare as well as worries about Google’s political motivations for participating in a such a project.

“At some point, I realized I could not in good faith recommend anyone join Google, knowing what I knew. I realized if I can’t recommend people join here, then why am I still here?” a resigning Google employee told Gizmodo.

“I tried to remind myself right that Google’s decisions are not my decisions. I’m not personally responsible for everything they do. But I do feel responsibility when I see something that I should escalate it,” another added.

“Actions speak louder than words, and that’s a standard I hold myself to as well,” a third resigning employee said. “I wasn’t happy just voicing my concerns internally. The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave.”

In addition to the resignations, an internal Google petition signed by over 4,000 employees asks CEO Sundar Pichai to cancel its contract with the Pentagon on Project Maven’s development.

“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,” the petition reads.

“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.”

Google pushed back against its employees, assuring them that the technology it develops won’t be used in lethal military application.

“Maven is a well-publicized DoD project, and Google is working on one part of it—specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes and using open-source object-recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer,” a Google spokesperson said last month.

“The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work.”

“Any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic and also with outside experts, as we continue to develop our policies around the development and use of our machine learning technologies.”

Google has not yet responded to the latest resignations.


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