Published: Sun, June 03, 2018
Markets | By Erika Turner

Pentagon project causing "existential crisis" within Google

Google will not renew a contract to do artificial intelligence work for the US Pentagon, company sources say.

Gizmodo reports Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene informed employees in a meeting today that the company would continue work through the end of the current contract, sometime in 2019, but no further.

The sources claim that Greene explained the company's decision a bit, saying that it had chose to work with the Defense Department at a time when it was heavily pursuing government contracts.

The New York Times reported this week that Fei-Fei Li, the chief scientist for AI at Google Cloud, is a vocal internal critic of Google's work on the US Department of Defense's Project Maven.

The tech giant will stop working on its piece of the military's AI project known as Project Maven when its 18-month contract expires in March, a source familiar with Google's thinking told The Washington Post.

It looks like the seemingly-never-ending fiasco over Google's involvement with the Pentagon's Project Maven isn't going away any time soon.

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Google may have also had plans for Project Maven that went beyond analyzing drone footage.

About 4K employees recently signed a petition demanding "a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology". Those who resigned were anxious about the ethical implications of the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare, but they were also concerned with Google's political motives and the potential for loss of user trust. A Google spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

"Not being able to tap into the vast talent at Google to help DoD employ AI in ethical and moral ways is very sad for our society and country", he added. Despite Google's assurances that the project was "specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes", an internal petition signed by over 4,000 employees demanded that Google leave the project. Project Maven was Google's first major contract with Pentagon after which the company was eyeing for bigger contracts with intelligence agencies. It's unknown what Google's future relationship with the Pentagon will be like.

The digital advertising and search giant, which holds "Do the right thing" as its motto and hauled in $110 billion in revenue previous year, had sought to use "Project Maven" as a "golden opportunity" and stepping stone to lucrative military contracts, the report said. It was initially valued at $15 million, but over time the budget was estimated to reach as high as $250 million.

In the message to Google's head of defense and intelligence sales, Scott Frohman, she reportedly said: "Avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI".

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