Google Will End its Partnership with the Military, But Not Until 2019
Back in March, Google employees penned a letter in protest of the company’s involvement with an AI program, called Project Maven, that would help analyze drone surveillance footage for the Department of Defense. After the letter garnered more than 4,000 signatures from Google employees, Google took notice of the dissent and announced it would be ending its involvement with Project Maven.
Diane Greene, head of Google Cloud, told employees during a Friday meeting that the company will not pursue an extension of the contract once it ends in 2019. It also comes on the heels of Google announcing it will draft an update to the company’s ethics policy to guide its involvement in future military projects. These new policies will call for the explicit ban of artificial intelligence in future weaponry and weapon systems for the military.
Project Maven consisted of Google providing an AI program called TensorFLow, which would allow the company to build a “Google-earth-like” surveillance system that would give Department of Defense analysts and contractors the ability to click on anything they see from drone footage and see everything associated with them. This included buildings, vehicles, large crowds, and even peoples’ faces.
Scott Frohman, defense and intelligence sales lead at Google, wrote in an email in September 2017: “Maven is a large government program that will result in improved safety for citizens and nations through faster identification of evils such as violent extremist activities and human right [sic] abuses.” He continued, “The scale and magic of GCP [Google Cloud Platform], the power of Google ML [machine learning], and the wisdom and strength of our people will bring about multi-order-of-magnitude improvements in safety and security for the world.”
Before Google was awarded the contract, it was shown that other Silicon Valley companies were vying for these lucrative defense contracts with the DoD, including Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM. Google executives were optimistic that this project would open to the door to even more lucrative projects within the United States military, including a reputed $10 billion cloud computing contract that several companies have already submitted bids for.
Going forward, this will be a telling time for Silicon Valley companies, who will be forced to confront the reality of having to choose between upholding their founding values or pursuing government supported ventures at risk of alienating their customers and frustrated employees. Google is a company that has a direct influence in the lives of billions around the globe, and their motto ‘Don’t Be Evil’ is still held to a high standard by these 3,100+ employees who have demonstrated their denunciation with the company’s involvement in the war effort.