Google Says It Will Maintain Relationship With Military After Promising Not To Make AI Weapons

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

Google will continue to work with the Pentagon on a drone surveillance initiative called Project Maven after recently acquiescing to employees’ demands to end certain relationships with the U.S. military, a company executive said Thursday.

“I would like to be unequivocal that Google Cloud honors its contracts,” Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud, wrote in a company blog post.

Portions of Google staff earlier in the year protested their company’s involvement in artificial intelligence (AI) development, specifically its application in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by the U.S. Department of Defense for identifying and tracking potential targets. Such public-private sector deals are usually lucrative and competitive, as Microsoft and Amazon were also vying for the multibillion-dollar contract for moving DOD data to the cloud.

Google has long claimed that the Pentagon only uses its technology to help “save lives” and “people from having to do highly tedious work.”

That apparently wasn’t convincing enough for its employees. After the resignation of around 12 employees and the publishing of an open letter on April 5 by 3,000 employees calling the program evil, the tech giant officially conceded on June 1.

CEO Sundar Pichai published a list of ethical principles Thursday behind the use of AI at Google, while also listing off all the potential beneficial uses.

“A pair of high school students are building AI-powered sensors to predict the risk of wildfires. Farmers are using it to monitor the health of their herds. Doctors are starting to use AI to help diagnose cancer and prevent blindness,” Pichai wrote in a separate post. “We recognize that such powerful technology raises equally powerful questions about its use.”

He also enumerates all of the “AI applications” the company “will not pursue.”

“Technologies that cause or are likely to cause overall harm,” will not be designed. Neither will “technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms,” according to Pichai.

Google will maintain its work with governments for initiatives that include “cybersecurity, training, military recruitment, veterans’ healthcare, and search and rescue.”

The Project Maven contract is still a point of contention as it deals with the analyzing of drone recordings, which is inherently surveillance.

“There have been calls for Google to cancel the September 2017 contract with the U.S. Department of Defense,” Greene continued. “We will not be pursuing follow on contracts for the Maven project and because of that, we are now working with our customer to responsibly fulfill our obligations in a way that works long-term for them and is also consistent with our AI principles.” (RELATED: Why Is Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt Serving In The Department Of Defense)

The protests, according to multiple reports, have been very loud. So much so that the corporate leaders ended up giving in — at least to a certain extent.

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