Google reportedly plans to end involvement with Project Maven

As Google continues its work on a military project, a dozen employees resign

google pixel 2 oct 4 2017 Sundar Pichai
Sundar Pichai

In April, more than 4,000 Google employees signed an open letter to CEO Sundar Pichai wanting out of what they term “the business of war.” Google senior engineers were among thousands of Google staff members who signed the letter, according to The New York Times. The letter requested the immediate cancellation of a specific military project and a more general policy statement about building technology for the military.

One month later, around a dozen Google employees have decided to resign as a form of protest over Google’s continued participation in the military project known as Project Maven. Those who are resigning cited ethical concerns in leveraging A.I. in drone warfare, as well as more general concerns about Google’s decisions in the political arena. Many of the employees who have chosen to end their tenure at Google have shared their rationales in a document that has been circulated internally at Google.

As Gizmodo reported, “The employees who are resigning in protest … say that 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.” And while Google’s culture has often been described as open and honest, that seems to be shifting. As one resigning employee said, “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.”

The open letter, which has apparently gone ignored by management, requested that Google immediately cancel its role in implementing Project Maven. The code name for a Department of Defense (DoD) Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT), Project Maven is an artificial intelligence (A.I.) program currently under development. Maven’s purpose is to assess drone video footage, Gizmodo reported.

In response to these protests, Google has reportedly decided not to renew Project Maven though it will finish out current contract. Google has not made any formal announcements regarding this, though Reuters cited sources “familiar with the deal.” Previously, Google had defended the contract saying that Project Maven was being used for non-offensive purposes and would save lives.

Project Maven was established by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) for the Pentagon in April 2017. A letter under Deputy Secretary of Defense letterhead date stamped April 26, 2017 states the DoD needs to “integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning more effectively across operations to maintain advantages over increasingly capable adversaries and competitors.”

The Defense Deputy Secretary’s announcement says the initial intended use of Maven is to to provide “computer vision algorithms for object detection, classification, and alerts” for tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), or drones.

Google-Pentagon-Maven-AI-Project-Drone
Getty Images

The second, more general request in the Google letter, was that Pichai “draft, publicize, and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

Participating in Project Maven will “irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent,” the letter stated. Google is “struggling to keep the public’s trust,” the letter continued, while many fear “biased and weaponized A.I.”

The letter refers to a Google core value statement: “Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever.” The letter’s signatories assert that the contract with the DoD directly opposes this core value and places the company’s reputation at risk.

Former Google CEO and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt was the keynote speaker at the November 2017 Center for a New American Security Artificial Intelligence and Global Security Summit. Schmidt was asked about the relationship between tech companies, A.I. research, and national security.

“There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly,” Schmidt said.

The letter to current CEO Pichai is evidence that at least for those who signed it, the general concern Schmidt mentioned is real and specific. Another letter has since been circulated, authored by over 90 academics in artificial intelligence, ethics, and computer science, who similarly asked Google to cease its work on Project Maven.

Updated on June 2: Google has reportedly decided it will not renew Project Maven.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Robo sidekicks, AC for your bed, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Web

Google claims censored search in China is ‘not close’ as employees protest

Google CEO, Sundar Pinchai, has promised employees that the company is "not close" to releasing a censored search product in China, despite claims that it was working on such a project.
Mobile

Google One subscriptions offer more cloud storage for low prices, other perks

Can't get enough storage on Google Drive, Photos, or Gmail? Google One is the new way to boost your cloud storage. But it's not just about more space -- Google One comes with a loads of benefits.
Emerging Tech

Don’t get burned! How to back crowdfunding projects the smart way

In the world of crowdfunding, there’s no such thing as a sure thing. There's a million reasons why a project might fail. But with this handy guide, you'll be able to spot the signs of a sketchy project and decrease your chances of getting…
Computing

Lenovo’s new mobile workstations pack a punch with Xeon CPUs, Quadro graphics

Lenovo has two new mobile workstations arriving at the end of August based on eighth-gen Intel Core and Xeon processors. The ThinkPad P1 is the thinnest of the two at 0.7 inches while the bigger ThinkPad P72 measures 1 inch.
Mobile

Bloatware could be putting millions of Android devices at risk

A study has revealed that changes to Android's firmware and added bloatware from carriers could be making millions of Android smartphones vulnerable to massive hacks and potential data theft.
Computing

Pricing and lack of content are still barriers against the adoption of VR

A recent survey questioned 595 VR and AR professionals about business growth in the consumer and enterprise markets. Only 24 percent report strong sales in the enterprise while 18 percent show strong sales in the consumer market.
Computing

Nvidia introduces its eighth-generation ‘Turing’ design, but not in gaming cards

Nvidia revealed its new graphics chip design called “Turing” during SIGGRAPH 2018. Rumored to be the foundation of Nvidia’s next family of GeForce cards, the company instead showcased Turing in Quadro RTX-branded cards for pros.
Movies & TV

MoviePass re-enrolls customers, while Costco offers refunds

MoviePass is reportedly re-enrolling users who had recently canceled the service, giving them an error message when they try to jump ship again. This comes as part of the launch of a new plan from the struggling company.
Photography

Brother’s new laser printers spit out prints with just a tap thanks to NFC

Seven new color laser printers carry the Brother name, as well as new features like NFC to easily print from mobile. The lineup sits between $200 and $400, and boasts faster print speeds and an updated design.
Social Media

New deal suggests Facebook is looking to add sweet interactive tools for Live

Facebook now owns a company that specializes in creating interactive live video experiences with polls, viewer comments, and more. Vidpresso says the change will help it bring the interactive tools to more users.
Wearables

Apple considers making its own health-monitoring processors

Apple could be looking at making its own dedicated health tracking processors. These chips are dedicated to health-monitoring features on wearables, and could mean more health tracking features on the next Apple Watch.
Photography

Sorry, DSLR, but Sony mirrorless is now the best-selling full-frame camera

Four out of every ten full-frame cameras sold in the United States during the first-half of 2018 had the Sony name. That makes Sony's mirrorless full-frame cameras the best-selling models.
Gaming

‘Battlefield V’ pre-order numbers have been underwhelming, analysts say

Market analysts at Cowen have said that the early pre-order numbers for Electronic Arts' upcoming shooter Battlefield V have been disappointing. The game is scheduled to arrive this October.