Google Staff Quit Over Military Drone Project

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

Project Maven with Pentagon sees 4,000 Google staff petition management against it, with some resigning in protest

Google staff are reportedly unhappy with the firm after it emerged earlier this year that Google was assisting the Pentagon in a little-known drone project called Project Maven.

So much so that almost 4,000 employees have reportedly signed an internal petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven, saying the project “will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent.”

And now it has been reported that at least dozen staffers at Google has resigned over the matter, which they feel clashes with the “don’t be evil” ethos of the search engine giant.

 

Ethical concerns

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

Essentially, the company is 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.

But according to Gizmodo, this project has been hugely controversial within Google, with some employees saying that it jeopardises trust and goes against the company’s core beliefs.

Some staff feel that Google shouldn’t be involved in military work at all.

Gizmodo reported that at least a dozen employees have quit over Google’s involvement in the project, raising objections to how the company’s involvement was brought to light.

It reported those who had resigned had done so due to a number of frustrations, ranging 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.

Gizmodo said that several of the resigning Google staff had spoken to Gizmodo, and told it 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.”

“Over the last couple of months, I’ve been less and less impressed with the response and the way people’s concerns are being treated and listened to,” one employee who resigned told Gizmodo.

Others expressed concerns at Google’s political moves, like its sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference and its struggle to address internal diversity concerns.

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

“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.

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Gizmodo about the resignations.

Mass resignations?

But this is reportedly the first time that Google has suffered “mass resignations” in protest against one of the company’s business decisions.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that more than 90 academics have this week released an open letter that has 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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