Google Employees Quit in Protest Over Military Artificial Intelligence Program

2 min
Google headquarters in Mountain View. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Google is working with the U.S. military to deploy artificial intelligence that helps drones automatically distinguish between people and objects. The initiative is called "Project Maven," and some of Google’s employees are not happy about it. Over 3,000 have signed a petition protesting the partnership, and about a dozen employees have resigned, according to reporting by Gizmodo, which broke the story about worker backlash.

Decades ago it was the U.S. military that spurred innovations like the personal computer and the internet. Today, the capabilities of digital technology, especially artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analysis, are being driven by private companies serving our consumption habits — companies like Amazon and Google.

Peter Asaro is a philosopher of science and technology at the New School in New York City. He’s one of about 100 academics who signed a letter protesting Google’s partnership with the Department of Defense.

Asaro said collaboration between the U.S. military and big tech companies like Google will speed up development of autonomous weaponry — weapons that can automatically find, target and kill.

"The timeline of how quickly we could see those systems would be moved up dramatically if Google throws its weight into building the key components of autonomous weapons," Asaro said. "Those are still very difficult, very challenging problems."

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Google has the key to tackling these problems. Data.

For years, we have been giving Google our data in return for free online services like search and email. That data has allowed the company to make great advances in artificial intelligence, data analysis and machine learning. All of the tools built on our mountains of data make Google uniquely positioned to improve something like image recognition for military drones.

Google did not respond to a request for comment. Through its products, like email and mapping systems, the company has garnered a huge amount of public trust. Some critics say the public's decision to adopt or use Google's products might have been different if they had foreseen that the government would potentially have access to our information.

Some Google employees are arguing that they do not want the tech company to help develop weapons of war. In an open letter to the CEO, employees questioned how working on killing machines squared with Google’s brand. They even referenced the search company’s old motto. Until recently it was “Don’t Be Evil.” Now, it’s “Do The Right Thing.”

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