Google To End Military AI Drone Project – Report

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Internal pressure from staff forces a rethink by Google over little-known Pentagon drone project

Google will reportedly end its help for the US Pentagon over the little-known drone project called Project Maven, when the contract expires in March 2019.

Google will apparently not renew a contract to do artificial intelligence work for the US Pentagon, after internal pressure from staff, some of whom have quit of the matter.

Almost 4,000 Google staffers signed an internal petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven. They feel the project “will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent.”

Drone (c) Esteban De Armas, Shutterstock 2014

Google u-turn?

The letter from Google staff came because they feel Google’s involvement in the project clashes with the “don’t be evil” ethos of the search engine giant.

Google’s involvement in the controversial Project Maven aims to speed up the analysis of drone footage.

Essentially, the search engine giant is said to be using machine-learning algorithms and AI to help the US military assess drone footage quickly.

It is reported that the project intends to detect vehicles and objects, track their movements and report this information back to the Department of Defense.

Tech site Gizmodo has been reporting on the staffing concerns about this project for a while now, and those Google staff who resigned told had Gizmodo previously that Google executives “have become less transparent with their workforce about controversial business decisions and seem less interested in listening to workers’ objections than they once did.”

But this seems to have changed, after Gizmodo reported that Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene had announced the decision at a meeting with employees last Friday.

The Pentagon contract is only thought to be worth less than $10m (£7.5m) to Google.

Unhappy staff

If Google is indeed ending its involvement in the military drone project, it could as a result of the staff letter, and the fact that at least a dozen people reportedly resigned over the issue.

This was apparently the first time that Google suffered “mass resignations” in protest against one of the company’s business decisions.

But Google has also been facing outside pressure. Last month more than 90 academics released an open letter that called on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems.

Google of course is also conducting its own drone research. In 2014 for example, it developed its own fleet of airborne drones, in a scheme it called ‘Project Wing’.

The idea was to develop a drone capable of home deliveries, similar to the way in which Amazon is looking to utilise drone technology.

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