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Google to end controversial military AI work after employee backlash

While Google had previously downplayed the military significance of the project, it appears that this wasn't enough for some employees.

Published onJune 4, 2018

A Google logo.


A Google logo.
  • Google is not expected to renew its Pentagon contract to provide AI to analyze drone footage.
  • Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene reportedly told employees about the decision last week. She said the backlash to the project had been bad for the company.
  • Previously, around 12 Googlers quit the company over the controversy, while over 3,000 signed a letter in protest.

Google will reportedly not renew its contract with the Pentagon for its work on Project Maven, a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) initiative that aims to use artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage, when its current one ends in 2019. According to Gizmodo, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees about the decision in a meeting on June 1.

According to Gizmodo, Diane Greene said the backlash against Google’s work on the project had been bad for the company, suggesting that this was a major reason for it pulling out. She also reportedly said that Google made the decision to take on the contract at a time when it was “more aggressively pursuing military work.”

Google has previously tried to play down the significance of the project. The company said that the work will not be used to operate drones or launch weapons and that Google has only been providing open-source software. The contract is not thought to be that financially lucrative with reports suggesting it is worth around $15 million. Although, in the future this figure could grow to $250 million.

Project Maven has been controversial amongst Google employees

Google’s work with the military has been controversial since news of it came out. In early April, more the 3,100 Google employees signed a letter asking the company to cancel the project. This eventually led to almost a dozen employees quitting in protest at the company’s involvement in the program.

From the beginning, Google has worried about the potential public reaction to the contract. The New York Times has previously reported that in company emails, AI experts warned officials to avoid “at all costs any mention or implication of AI”

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The use of AI in warfare is one of the most controversial uses of the technology. Following the controversy, sources inside Google told the Times that the company us working on a set of guidelines to direct its AI work with the military. These guidelines could include a ban on the use of AI in weaponry.

Google giving up the contract could leave the door open to other tech giants. Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM were all reportedly interested in the project when it was first won by Google.

Next up: Artificial Intelligence vs Machine Learning: What’s the difference

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