Google is ending its controversial ‘Project Maven’ deal with the Pentagon.
Google Cloud boss Diane Greene informed employees of the decision during an internal meeting on Friday morning, Gizmodo reported, citing sources close to the situation.
The contract, in which the Pentagon used Google’s artificial intelligence technologies to analyze drone footage, was set to expire in 2019.
Greene told employees that it won’t be renewing the contract once it expires.
Google is calling off its controversial ‘Project Maven’ program with the Pentagon. The contract is set to expire in 2019 and Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene said they won’t renew it past then
The decision comes after Google faced months of backlash over its involvement in the program, with nearly a dozen employees resigning from the company as a result of the move.
And more than 3,000 employees penned a letter addressed to Google, saying it shouldn’t be ‘in the business of war’.
During the meeting on Friday, Greene told employees that the backlash has been ‘terrible for the company,’ according to Gizmodo.
At one time, Google was interested in pursuing partnerships with the military, Greene said.
But it has since adjusted its stance, and now plans to release updated ethical principles about its use of AI next week, Gizmodo noted.
It was revealed in March that Google is engaging in a mysterious drone program with the Pentagon, with participation from Nvidia and other tech firms and academic institutions. Work on the project began last April.
Google has been dealing with significant backlash since it was revealed that the firm is participating in a military drone project. Thousands of employees penned a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai (pictured) urging the company to pull out of the contract
Pictured is footage of a truck from the view of a camera on a MQ-9 Reaper, which is an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the military for surveillance purposes in war zones
At the time, Google said its TensorFlow software would be used for ‘non-offensive uses only,’ namely assisting in object recognition on unclassified data.
Greene had recently assured employees that the technology won’t ‘operate or fly drones’ and ‘will not be used to launch weapons’.
Google executives also said the contract was of little value.
However, leaked emails showed that Google’s business development unit hoped to make as much as $250 million per year from the military drone project, according to documents obtained by the Intercept.
In the emails, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, head scientist at Google Cloud, wrote that she was worried about how the public would perceive the project.
‘This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google,’ Li wrote, according to the Intercept.
‘You probably heard Elon Musk and his comment about AI causing WW3’
‘I don’t know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry,’ she continued.
Li added that the firm should take care to protect the ‘very positive images’ presented by Google Cloud about ‘Democratizing AI’ and ‘Humanistic AI’.
Leaked emails showed that Google’s business development unit hoped to make as much as $250 million per year from the military drone project, according to the Intercept
Google hoped to build a ‘Google-earth-like’ surveillance system that enabled military analysts to ‘click on a building and see everything associated with it’
In a set of additional emails obtained by Gizmodo, executives describe how Google had wide-ranging plans for the AI drones.
The firm hoped to build a ‘Google-earth-like’ surveillance system that enabled military analysts to ‘click on a building and see everything associated with it’ and construct graphs of things like vehicles, people and other detailed features for ‘the entire city,’ according to Gizmodo.
Previously, Google said the technology wasn’t being used to identify people, but things like trees, birds and other generic objects.
Google’s AI had developed a higher accuracy rate in being able to classify images for Project Maven, detecting cars that had been missed by image labelers, Gizmodo said.
‘Among other things, the results showed several cases that with 90+ percent confidence the model detected vehicles which were missed by expert labelers,’ Reza Ghanadan, a senior engineering program manager at Google, wrote in an email.
Googlers had shown frustration with the company over Project Maven’s potential implications.
In the letter, the staffers argue that the project could ‘irreparably damage’ Google’s brand and its ability to retain top talent moving forward.
WHAT IS AI’S ROLE IN DRONE WARFARE?
The U.S. military has been looking to incorporate elements of artificial intelligence and machine learning into its drone program.
Project Maven, as the effort is known, aims to provide some relief to military analysts who are part of the war against Islamic State.
These analysts currently spend long hours staring at big screens reviewing video feeds from drones as part of the hunt for insurgents in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Pentagon is trying to develop algorithms that would sort through the material and alert analysts to important finds, according to Air Force Lieutenant General John N.T. ‘Jack’ Shanahan, director for defense intelligence for warfighting support.
A British Royal Air Force Reaper hunter killer unmanned aerial vehicle on the flight line February 21, 2014 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Military bosses say intelligence analysts are ‘overwhelmed’ by the amount of video being recorded over the battlefield by drones with high resolution cameras
‘A lot of times these things are flying around(and)… there’s nothing in the scene that’s of interest,’ he told Reuters.
Shanahan said his team is currently trying to teach the system to recognize objects such as trucks and buildings, identify people and, eventually, detect changes in patterns of daily life that could signal significant developments.
‘We’ll start small, show some wins,’ he said.
A Pentagon official said the U.S. government is requesting to spend around $30 million on the effort in 2018.
Similar image recognition technology is being developed commercially by firms in Silicon Valley, which could be adapted by adversaries for military reasons.
Shanahan said he’ not surprised that Chinese firms are making investments there.
‘They know what they’re targeting,’ he said.
Research firm CB Insights says it has tracked 29 investors from mainland China investing in U.S. artificial intelligence companies since the start of 2012.
The risks extend beyond technology transfer.
‘When the Chinese make an investment in an early stage company developing advanced technology, there is an opportunity cost to the U.S. since that company is potentially off-limits for purposes of working with (the Department of Defense),’ the report said.
‘Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust,’ the employees wrote.
Should Google continue with the project, it risks damaging some of its core values, they noted.
‘…Google’s unique history, its motto ‘Don’t Be Evil’, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart’, they added.
The employees went on to say that Project Maven could put Google on par with the likes of shadowy defense contractors like Palantir, Raytheon and General Dynamics.
Further, the staffers said that even though peers like Amazon and Microsoft have worked on defense projects with the government, that’s not a bullet-proof argument.
‘This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values,’ the letter continues.
‘Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance — and potentially lethal outcomes — is not acceptable’,