Thousands of Google employees have raised their concerns regarding the use of Artificial Intelligence for military purposes. The employees, which included many senior engineers as well, have signed a petition requesting Google CEO Sundar Pichai to pull Google out of Project Maven – a Pentagon-backed project harvesting AI to improve the military technology. Pichai was also urged by employees to establish and enforce strict policies which keep Google and its associated subsidiaries from indulging in ‘the business of war’.
What does the petition say?
The letter, signed by over 3000 Google employees, argues that collaborating with the government to work on military projects is strictly against Google’s core ideology that technology must be used for welfare and not for destruction of mankind. It argues that backing the military could backfire tremendously by creating a negative image of Google in the minds of customers, and also affect potential recruitment.
The concerned employees are of the opinion that since Google is currently engaged in a serious competition with many other companies to hire the best possible talent, some candidates could be put off by Google’s military connections with the government.
What is Project Maven?
Project Maven is a Pentagon-backed initiative which was announced in May 2017. The main purpose of this project was to integrate Artificial Intelligence with various defense programs to make them smarter. Backed with Google’s technology, this program aims to improve the image and video processing capabilities of drones to accurately pick out human targets for strikes, while identifying innocent civilians to reduce or prevent their accidental killing.
Google have declared their participation in this program in a ‘non-offensive capacity’, and have maintained that their products or technology would not be used to create autonomous weapons that operate without human intervention.
Connections with the Pentagon
It is also interesting to note that some of Google’s top executives are connected to Pentagon in some capacity. Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google who is still a member of the executive board of Google’s parent company Alphabet, serves in the Defense Innovation Board, a Pentagon advisory body. Milo Medin, Vice President of Access Services, Google Capital is also a part of this body.
What about Amazon and Microsoft?
When it comes to connections with the Pentagon, Google aren’t the only ones involved. Amazon has collaborated with the Department of Defense through the Amazon Rekognition API for image recognition. Also, Microsoft announced their collaboration with the US government by providing IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) and PaaS (Platform as a Service) capabilities to meet the data storage and security needs of the government.
The news related to the dispute and the subsequent petition was initially reported by Gizmodo earlier this March. Considering the project is expected to cost close to $70 million in its first year, the petitioners are aiming to discourage Google from getting into more lucrative contracts as the demand for AI in defense and military applications grows.