Google employees are quitting over USA military 'Project Maven' tie-up

Eric Schmidt

Eric Schmidt

Google hasn't listened to a continent of its employees that are unhappy with Google's involvement in the military-industrial complex, and now a report from Gizmodo says "about a dozen" employees have resigned over the issue.

Project Maven helps process aerial drone footage using artificial intelligence (AI) to spy on vehicles and even follow people as they come and go in and out of buildings. But according to Gizmodo, Google employees felt the company wasn't doing enough to address their concerns. Over 90 academics in the spheres of ethics, AI, and computer science this week published an open letter asking that Google back an worldwide treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems, and ceases work with the United States military.

However, the mounting pressure from employees seems to have done little to sway Google's decision - the company has defended its work on Maven and is thought to be one of the lead contenders for another major Pentagon cloud computing contract, the Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure, better known as JEDI, that is now up for bids.

Responding to the petition and resignations, a Google spokesperson told the Daily Express that the technology being developed under the Project Maven programme "is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives".

Gizmodo spoke to a number of the employees, who voiced their concerns and anger at the Google's continued collaboration with a military programme.

What's your take on Google working with the government to use AI for military purposes?

"I'm not personally responsible for everything that they do".

While the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM are also working closely with the Pentagon, for example, over 30 technology companies - including Facebook and Microsoft, but not Amazon, Apple, or Alphabet - signed an Accord earlier this year stating that they would refuse to aid any government, including the U.S., in carrying out cyber attacks. Thousands of others have signed an internal petition in an effort to persuade CEO Sundar Pichai to withdraw Google from "the business of war". The letter says Google should "commit to not weaponizing its technology" and terminate its contract with the DoD.

"But I do feel responsibility". A resigning employee said: "Actions speak louder than words, and that's a standard I hold myself to as well". "Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns".

"We're actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic and also with outside experts, as we continue to develop our policies around the development and use of our machine learning technologies".

Fortune approached Google for comment about these resignations and will update this post if it responds. "The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave", the departing team member said.

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