Google employees denounce company military drone work in letter to CEO


In response to Google’s involvement in boosting image recognition for drones, a growing number of employees are saying it’s time for the multi-faceted tech giant to draw the line.

Thousands of Google employees reportedly signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai denouncing the company’s work on military image recognition capabilities, according to a New York Times report. Addressed to Pichai, the letter discusses Google’s role in developing military drone software as part of “Project Maven” and argues that the tech company should not be in “the business of war.”

As Ars Technica Explained last month, “Project Maven” involved the use of Google’s image recognition technology to analyze and sort through millions of hours of video footage collected by drones to enhance the military capability of identify outstanding people and other subjects in the field.

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The Times reported that more than 3,000 Google employees added their names to the document last week. From its first paragraph, the letter establishes employee opposition to the project and to Google’s involvement in wartime lawsuits in general.

“We believe that Google should not be involved in the war”, one can read. “Therefore, we demand that Project Maven be canceled and that Google write, publish and enforce a clear policy that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build war technology.”

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The letter also rejects Google’s position that the project was “specifically designed to be for non-offensive purposes ”, arguing that the development of image recognition software for the military, which could then use it for various surveillance purposes, is“ not acceptable ”and could potentially have “deadly results”.

In response to the letter, a Google spokesperson provided the following statement to outlets:

An important part of our culture is having employees who are actively engaged in the work we do. We know that there are many open questions related to the use of new technologies, which is why these conversations, with employees and external experts, are extremely important and beneficial.

Maven is a high-profile DoD project, and Google is working on a portion of it, specifically designed to be non-offensive and using open source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer. Models are based only on unclassified data. The technology is used to flag images for human examination and is intended to save lives and prevent people from having to do very tedious work.

Any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We are actively engaged throughout the company in an in-depth discussion on this important topic and also with external experts, as we continue to develop our policies regarding the development and use of our machine learning technologies.

As the Times and Ars Technica pointed out that Google isn’t the only Silicon Valley company to get its boots wet in the military’s tech pool.

It remains to be seen whether or not Amazon and Microsoft employees will express doubts about the defense projects being developed by their companies.

[h/t Ars Technica]

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