Google Won't Seek to Renew Pentagon Contract After Internal Backlash

Sundar Pichai Google I  O CEO

Sundar Pichai Google I O CEO

Following outcry from thousands of employees and the resignations of several over its work on drone and artificial intelligence (AI) technology with the USA military, Google announced Friday that it would not renew its contract on the Pentagon program known as Project Maven.

Over the last few months, Google's faced nonstop backlash for partnering with the United States Pentagon to work on an AI system that can swiftly identify people and points of interest from drone footage.

Targets acquired: As first reported by Gizmodo, Google has been supplying technology and know-how to the U.S. military for automating the analysis of drone footage.

It appears Google has finally conceded, as Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced today in a company meeting that the Project Maven contract will not be renewed after it expires in 2019. The announcement comes shortly after Google said it would draft an ethics policy to guide its involvement in future military projects - one that would explicitly ban the use of AI in weaponry.

The Maven contract was of little value to Google right now, but executives reportedly viewed Maven as a gateway to more lucrative military and intelligence contracts. Instead, the company was seemingly hoping that the deal, which was not directly with Google, would remain hidden from the public.

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Mr. Singer also said he thought Google employees who denounced Maven were somewhat naïve, because Google's search engine and the video platform of its YouTube division have been used for years by warriors of many countries, as well as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State.

The Pentagon has said AI is a top priority and it is moving aggressively to develop a "Joint Artificial Intelligence Office" that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in April would involve AI production and prototyping.

But for employees who saw themselves working for a more moral tech giant (which recently abandoned its unofficial "don't be evil" motto), there probably won't be much good news.

The Times said Pichai addressed the matter at an all-staff meeting last Thursday, telling employees that the firm intended to come up with a list of principles about its use of artificial intelligence for military means. Internal message boards have also been flooded with comments about the deal.

The project has even prompted the resignation of dozens of Google employees, according to Gizmodo. Google "should not be in the business of war", according to the letter to Pichai that was signed by thousands of disgruntled employees.

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