Saturday, 18 August, 2018

Project Maven: Google employees resign over controversial U.S. military AI programme

Google A Step Towards Autonomous Killing Machines InvestingGoogle A Step Towards Autonomous Killing Machines?By Amiya Moretta
Orlando Vargas | 15 May, 2018, 19:44

Hundreds of academics have urged Google to abandon its work on a U.S. Department of Defense-led drone program codenamed "Project Maven" that is using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help analyze huge amounts of captured surveillance footage.

Project Maven looks to help the United States military assess drone footage quickly using AI and machine learning.

The tech news website says "about a dozen" staff working on the project are believed to have walked out, citing concerns ranging from the ethics of the AI programme to the search engine giant's political stance. Nearly 4,000 employees signed an internal letter demanding Google pull out from the project, according to Bloomberg.

The protest is also being backed by "some 400 technology academics and researchers from around the world", who have published an open letter to Google, adds the tech site.

The employees are also not impressed with company executives' response to the initial protest, which called on Google to cancel its contracting role in Project Maven and vow never to build technology for war. Whilst unofficially, we know more than the government admits, Google is bound by what the public knows officially and so, therefore, there's likely to be a lot of discussions where people are prevented from discussing things that everyone knows - something that flies in the face of Google's obsession with transparency.

Google said the tech would not be used to kill people, but employees are outraged that Google would involve itself in military operations.

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"I tried to remind myself right that Google's decisions are not my decisions".

Other companies such as IBM and Amazon have refused to work with the Department of Defense, so it's interesting that Google is failing to take its employees' concerns onboard. But some employees believe humans, not algorithms, should be responsible for this sensitive and potentially lethal work - and that Google shouldn't be involved in military work at all.

More than 3,000 Google staffers signed a petition in April in protest at the company's focus on warfare.

It stated: "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".

Fortune contacted Google for comment about these resignations and will update this post if it responds. Google, however, has offered comment on Project Maven saying, "The technology is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work".

According to Gizmodo, Google still hasn't developed a policy document detailing safeguards around its use of machine learning. "I realized if I can't recommend people join here, then why am I still here?" a resigning Google employee told Gizmodo. "The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave".

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