Google staff demand an end to Pentagon military drone collaboration

5 Apr 2018

Google office in Singapore. Image: mentatdgt/Shutterstock

Google employees implore CEO Sundar Pichai to withdraw the company from US drone project.

Thousands of Google employees have voiced their concerns at the company’s involvement in Project Maven.

Maven is a Pentagon programme that uses AI to interpret drone footage in order to improve the accuracy of strikes, an endeavour many Google staff are unhappy to be associated with.

Thousands sign letter to Pichai

According to The New York Timesmore than 3,100 staff have signed a letter addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai, protesting the company’s involvement in the creation of warfare technology.

“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore, we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicise and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

The letter noted that internal concerns around Project Maven had been percolating for some time and added that Diane Greene, cloud lead at the company, assured staff the technology would not “operate and fly drones” or be used to launch weapons. This does not change the fact that the project is being developed for the US military.

It continued, noting the stark difference between Google’s mission statement and the possible implications this technology could have globally: “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.”

Staff said that they did not want to “outsource the moral responsibility” of Google technologies to third parties, and added that the potential lethal outcomes of Project Maven rendered it unacceptable.

Valid concerns

The tech player described its involvement in Project Maven as “non-offensive” in nature, but the Pentagon’s video analysis is routinely used in counterterrorism operations.

In a statement, Google said that “any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns” and added that there had been many discussions across the company around the topic of military projects.

It said that the US military is using “open-source object-recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer. 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.”

Google office in Singapore. Image: mentatdgt/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects