Google is working on a military drone project with the Department of Defense and its employees aren’t happy about it. So unhappy, in fact, that many are resigning in protest.
According to Gizmodo, roughly a dozen Google employees have announced they’ll be leaving the company in light of its involvement in “Project Maven”, a military program that controversially uses machine-learning and image-recognition software to sift through millions of hours of drone-captured video footage and identify things of interest – people included.
The (now ex-) employees have raised a number of issues, including an increasing lack of transparency within the corporation, the blind eye frequently turned to employee concerns, and ethical questions over the use of AI-controlled drones in military situations. Several have shared their reasons for leaving in an internal memo, which has since been discussed with journalists at Gizmodo.
“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?” one employee said.
This was quickly met with an employee-driven petition signed by nearly 4,000 Googlers, calling for the company to withdraw from the project and enact a policy stating they would not take part in military activities in future. Their point: "We believe that Google should not be in the business of war... This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. "
So what does Google make of this latest development?
Well, they've not shifted their position on Project Maven. A spokesperson defended their activities in a statement in April, saying 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."
They also claim to only provide open-source software to the program, i.e. technology that could be adopted by the military whether Google wanted them to or not.
But the tech giant's active involvement in the project could still be a major blow to its public reputation.
“It’s not like Google is this little machine-learning startup that’s trying to find clients in different industries,” another employee told Gizmodo. “It just seems like it makes sense for Google and Google’s reputation to stay out of that.”
It’s not just employees protesting about this latest development. More than 200 researchers and academics involved in artificial intelligence signed an open letter written by the International Committee for Robot Arms Control asking Google not to weaponize its technology and to cancel its work with the Defense Department, saying:
"The private data collected by Google comes with a responsibility not only to use that data to improve its own technologies and expand its business, but also to benefit society. The company’s motto 'Don’t Be Evil' famously embraces this responsibility."