Google opts out of government contract to build AI for drone analysis

Google LLC has declined to renew a contract with the federal government for which it provided technology for military analysts to study surveillance footage obtained by drones, according to multiple media reports.

Google has long provided technological assistance to the federal government.

In March, Gizmodo reported Google had partnered with the Defense Department to furnish artificial intelligence (AI) technology to assist the Pentagon identify military targets in a project known as Project Maven.

At the time it was publicly disclosed, Google emphasized its technology was developed for non-offensive use only.  According to sources, Google outbid competitors Microsoft, IBM and Amazon to win the contract.

Under the terms of the agreement initially signed in September 2017, Google was to provide AI for a pilot program, the aim of which is to classify images of objects and people captured during drone reconnaissance flights.

Under the original $28 million contract awarded by the government, Google accepted $15 million to participate in Project Maven.

However, the announcement Google had agreed to collaborate with the Pentagon roiled thousands of company employees and inspired a backlash at the tech giant in which thousands protested and over a dozen resigned over ethical concerns. The petition alone reportedly earned over 3,500 signatures.

According to war technology expert Peter Singer of Washington-based think tank New America, however, Google platforms have been used for a significant amount of time now by foreign combatants.

“(Google) may want to act like they’re not in the business of war, but the business of war long ago came to them,” Singer said.

Following the backlash, Google announced it was drafting a code of ethics for its work with the U.S. government.

Facing the wrath of its employees, on Friday, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene notified employees at a weekly meeting the firm’s leadership had backed out of the project after their contract expires in 2019.

Outlining the firm’s position, Green told employees: “It is incumbent on us to show leadership,” as the project had been “terrible for Google”.


[New York Times] [Gizmodo] [Photo courtesy Daily Jiddat]