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Almost a dozen Google employees quit over drone warfare project

Today, almost a dozen Google employees quit in response to Project Maven, a controversial drone warfare program.

Published onMay 14, 2018

A Google logo.
  • “About a dozen” Google employees quit their jobs today in protest of the company’s involvement with a controversial government program.
  • Project Maven aims to enhance drone’s abilities when it comes to analyzing video footage.
  • The employees in question feel that Google’s participation in the program is a violation of the company’s code of ethics: “Don’t be evil.”

Back in April, we told you about how thousands of Google employees voiced their opposition to the company’s involvement in a drone warfare program initiated by the Pentagon. Today, almost a dozen Google employees quit their jobs in protest of the company’s involvement with the controversial government program, among other issues.

Although the exact number of employees who quit is not known, Gizmodo reports that the mass exodus of “about a dozen” employees is a direct result of Google’s involvement in Project Maven, a military pilot program which aims to use AI and machine learning to analyze objects in drone footage.

The employees in question believe that the company’s involvement in a government warfare program violates the ethical nature of Google (the company’s motto of corporate conduct is “Don’t be evil”), and also feel that Google’s refusal to adequately address employee concerns represents a drastic working environment change. The only course of action left, according to the employees, was to quit.

The Gizmodo report does not illuminate what positions the employees held. No names are used to protect anonymity.

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Although the exact nature of Project Maven is under wraps, it appears that the military program could theoretically be used to give drones the ability to analyze objects before an attack. For example, an algorithm would help a military drone analyze footage of an enemy base of operations and determine whether it was an attack target or not. If this were true, it would take human decision-making out of warfare – a possibility that these Google employees could not abide.

The employees tell Gizmodo that another concern is that Google could be advancing technology to kill its own customers. After all, Google is a worldwide brand and people whom America considers enemies also use Google products. The employees question how a company can involve itself with a program that puts its own customers in danger.

Is involvement in a drone warfare program a violation of Google's 'Don't be evil' policy?

There’s also the question of Google’s standing in the world as a profitable enterprise. The employees wonder why a company as successful as Google needs to involve itself in a government program in the first place.

Google has yet to issue any formal statement on the employees leaving the company but did defend itself earlier in the debate by saying that the Pentagon is only using open-source software. However, Google is supporting the Pentagon’s use of that software and allegedly helping the government tweak its effectiveness.

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A Google logo.

Along with the issues surrounding Project Maven, there are two other notable Google controversies that brought about the employees in question quitting their jobs: Google’s sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the issues surrounding internal diversity concerns.

Employees want Google to create and stand by an ethics policy surrounding AI and military programs as well as cancel the contract related to Project Maven.

This is a developing story, and we will update it if and when Google makes a statement on the matter.

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