Google retreating from military AI project

Targets acquired: As first reported by Gizmodo, Google has been supplying technology and know-how to the United States military for automating the analysis of drone footage.

Last month we reported that over a dozen Google employees had resigned to protest the company's contract with the US Department of Defense helping the military with artificial intelligence.

Google cloud boss Diane Greene Google Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud, informed employees of the company's decision on Friday, unnamed sources told Gizmodo. However, newly uncovered documents examined by The Interceptshow that Google stands to earn a lot more with Project Maven: $250 million/year. There has been no official statement from Google. The company is reportedly pursuing a Pentagon cloud computing contract worth $10 billion.

In the emails, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, head scientist at Google Cloud, wrote that she was anxious about how the public would perceive the project.

Project Maven has sparked an intense debate within the company about Google's corporate ethics. Instead of having human operators sift through hours and hours of surveillance video, Project Maven deploys an AI algorithm that can aid with some of this grunt work.

"I do think it's significant, in other words, that there was sufficient resistance inside the company that Google has had to respond, and it's posed a tangible obstacle to growing relations with the DoD", said Dr. Suchman.

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Google declined to comment when contacted by Business Insider.

Greene reportedly cited the backlash against Project Maven, adding that the firm plans to announce new ethical principles about AI next week.

The are some criticisms of AI being used in the military, and outspoken critics like Elon Musk speculate that AI in general is itself an existential threat to humanity. Google "should not be in the business of war", according to the letter to Pichai that was signed by thousands of disgruntled employees.

But Kate Conger, a journalist for the technology news website Gizmodo, told the BBC that Google had not cancelled Project Maven and did not appear to have ruled out future work with the military. The project's goal is to create an AI program that will improve the targeting of drone strikes.

Funding for Project Maven, which is also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team, grew to US$131 million (NZ$188 million) in the federal budget signed in March by US President Donald Trump. "The technology is being built for the military", the letter read.

The website Defense One reported that unlike Amazon and Microsoft, Google has "kept its own interest" in the contract "out of the press", and the company has "even hidden the pursuit from its own workers".

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