Just two weeks after around a dozen Google employees quit and close to 4,000 signed a petition over the company’s involvement in a controversial military pilot program known as “Project Maven” – which will use artificial intelligence to speed up analysis of drone footage – Buzzfeed reports that Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees during an internal meeting that the tech company was “not following through” on Maven.
As a reminder, Project Maven was to use machine learning to identify vehicles and other objects from drone footage – with the ultimate goal of enabling the automated detection and identification of objects in up to 38 categories – including the ability to track individuals as they come and go from different locations.
Project Maven’s objective, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director for Defense Intelligence for Warfighter Support in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, “is to turn the enormous volume of data available to DoD into actionable intelligence and insights.” –DoD
The internal revolt began shortly after Google revealed its involvement in the project nearly three months ago.
Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning. –Gizmodo
The resigned employees cited a range of frustrations, from ethical concerns over the use of AI in a battlefield setting, to larger concerns over Google’s overall political decisions. The disgruntled ex-employees, apparently unaware that Google was seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, have compiled a master document of personal accounts detailing their decisions to leave, which multiple sources have described to Gizmodo.
The employees who are resigning in protest, several of whom discussed their decision to leave with Gizmodo, 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. In the case of Maven, Google is helping the Defense Department implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones. 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.
Historically, Google has promoted an open culture that encourages employees to challenge and debate product decisions. But some employees feel that their leadership no longer as attentive to their concerns, leaving them to face the fallout. “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,” one employee who resigned said. –Gizmodo
But, as Buzzfeed now reports, the current contract will end in 2019, and Google will not pursue another.
Google’s decision, which Gizmodo first reported, was announced by Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene during an internal meeting for employees called Weather Report.
“We’ve always said this was an 18-month contract that we did, so it ends in March of 2019,” Greene said, according to a source familiar with the meeting.
“And there will be no follow-on to Maven.”
Did Google suddenly return to its “don’t be evil” roots? Or did Project Maven just get ‘skunkworked’ underground somewhere else – for an even bigger budget?