A New York Times report this morning revealed intense internal debate at Google over the company's involvement with the Department of Defense's Maven program, which, per the Times, "uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes". As well, the report claims that the emails show Google's higher ups as "enthusiastically supportive" of the company's Project Maven involvement.
It remains unclear exactly what role the tech industry continues to play in the Pentagon initiative, known as Project Maven, that seeks to use machine learning technology to quickly analyze images captured on the battlefield, such as from aerial drones.
About 4,000 Google employees asked the technology giant to cancel the contract in a signed petition.
That promise has already been met with skepticism by the Tech Workers Coalition, a group calling for Silicon Valley companies "to stay out of the business of war" and develop ethics standards for AI.
Google, for its part, says it now intends to release a detailed set of ethical guidelines for developing artificial intelligence. Google declined to comment for this story. The DoD has millions of hours of drone footage that pour in from around the world, and having humans comb through it for "objects of interest" isn't a scalable proposition.
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Furious staff members have flooded message boards, attended fractious meetings, created anti-Maven stickers, and resigned in protest.
They feared it was the first step towards using artificial intelligence for lethal purposes.
"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", the company said back in April.
Google's artificial intelligence would bring "an exquisite capability" for "near-real time analysis", the email said.
But Google didn't have it-so it had to rely on other geospatial imagery for its early work on Project Maven. Pentagon spokeswoman Major Audricia Harris said in email to Reuters on Friday that the Pentagon values "all of our relationships with academic institutions and commercial companies involved with Project Maven".
Wow. Kudos to all the Google employees who forced the company's hand on this. Its budget also had the possibility of growing to as much as $250 million.