Google employees want company to drop Pentagon ‘war’ drone program

More than 3,000 Google employees have signed an open letter to management, urging the company to pull out of a Pentagon program that uses artificial intelligence to aid with video imagery used by drones.

The letter, which was published by the New York Times, has more than 3,000 signatures, according to the paper, protesting the company’s involvement in Project Maven.

In a statement provided to MarketWatch, a Google spokesperson said: “An important part of our culture is having employees who are actively engaged in the work that we do. We know that there are many open questions involved in the use of new technologies, so these conversations – with employees and outside experts – are hugely important and beneficial.

“Maven is a well publicized DoD project and Google is working on one part of it – specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes and using open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer. The models are based on unclassified data only. 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.

“Any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic and also with outside experts, as we continue to develop our policies around the development and use of our machine learning technologies.”

The open letter to Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc.

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is reproduced below:

Dear Sundar,

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

Google is implementing Project Maven, a customized AI surveillance engine that uses “Wide Area Motion Imagery” data captured by US Government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense.

Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. Diane Greene responded, assuring them that the technology will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons.” While this eliminates a narrow set of direct applications, the technology is being built for the military, and once it’s delivered it could easily be used to assist in these tasks.

This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent. Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust. By entering into this contract, Google will join the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon

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 , and General Dynamics

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The argument that other firms, like

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 nd Amazon

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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.

We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties. Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.

Recognizing Google’s moral and ethical responsibility, and the threat to Google’s reputation, we request that you:

1. Cancel this project immediately

2. Draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology

(end letter)

Google parent Alphabet shares rose 1.3% premarket Thursday, and have gained 21% in the last 12 months, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average

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 has gained 17.5% and the SP 500

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 has gained 12.4%.

Read also: 5 things to know about Europe’s new data rules — which could cost big, bad tech billions

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