Google to End Military Contract Following Employee Complaints


The contract is set to expire in 2019, and the decision not to renew was announced internally during a weekly meeting by Google Cloud chief Diane Greene, who added that the company will announce new ethical principles surrounding artificial intelligence and the military. The Outline has contacted Google for comment as to why there is not a similar ban on the military use of Google Earth.

The move is a setback for the Pentagon's push to supercharge the military's capabilities with powerful AI that could help process battlefield data or pinpoint military targets.

In the course of the contract, Google contributed TensorFlow, its open-source AI framework, to the Pentagon. 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". The Maven technology has reportedly been used at least since a year ago in the fight against ISIS.

Project Maven has been a source of tension within Google. Google's internal unrest became the subject of public record back in April, when thousands signed a letter protesting the company's work with the Defense Department. As well, the report claims that the emails show Google's higher ups as "enthusiastically supportive" of the company's Project Maven involvement.

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The digital advertising and search giant, which holds "Do the right thing" as its motto and hauled in $110 billion in revenue previous year, had sought to use "Project Maven" as a "golden opportunity" and stepping stone to lucrative military contracts, the report said.

The employees fear that the project is the first step towards using artificial intelligence for lethal purposes. That would seem like things employees of Google might be proud to do. Google's participation in the program, which critics contend could help increase the accuracy of drone-missile strikes, sparked controversy both inside and outside of Google. "It will make it more hard to compete with countries that have no moral or ethical governors on AI in the national security space".

Google's change will likely do little to slow the military's building march for AI. Strong backlash against the company's involvement in the project reportedly led to the company's decision not to continue to pursue the project. AI researchers and executives at London-based Google subsidiary DeepMind, meanwhile, have distanced themselves from the program, citing a 2014 acquisition agreement between the companies that preclude Google from using DeepMind technology in surveillance and military systems.