Over 3,100 Google employees, including some of the company’s senior engineers, have signed a letter addressed to their CEO, asking him to halt the company’s involvement in an artificial intelligence project run by the Pentagon, The New York Times reports.
The program in question involves the development of AI software for analyzing drone footage, and is conducted under the auspices of Project Maven, also known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, that was established in April 2017 in order to accelerate the US Department of Defense’s integration of big data and machine learning.
"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy of stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology," the letter said.
A statement issued by Google sometime later, which did not directly mentioned the letter, said that "any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns," adding that the company is actively engaged "in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic."
The company insisted, however that Google’s part in Project Maven was "specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes," the newspaper points out.
Google's role within Project Maven reportedly involves developing artificial intelligence to help identify various objects in drone footage using advanced computer vision, thereby removing that burden from human analysts who cannot keep up with the vast amounts of daily data.
Sources who spoke on condition of anonymity also revealed that Google's involvement Project Maven was not public, but was discussed inside the company. When information about it was shared on an internal mailing list, it sparked concern among employees.