Following months of employee outrage and media scrutiny, Google has decided not to renew its contract to develop AI image recognition software for U.S. military drones, Gizmodo reported.
On Friday (June 1), Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees that the company would allow its controversial contract with the Department of Defense to expire in 2019 without seeking renewal, according to several Google employees who contacted Gizmodo.
Earlier this year, an internal Google email leaked with news that the company had partnered with the Department of Defense on a surveillance program known as Project Maven. According to a DOD news release issued in July, Project Maven aims to improve America’s ability to “[win] wars with computer algorithms and artificial intelligence” by rapidly upgrading the military’s ability to analyze drone footage. Google agreed to provide the DOD with machine-learning software to help the Pentagon achieve this goal.
Following Google’s public confirmation of the partnership in March, more than 4,000 Google employees signed a petition demanding that the company back out of the contract, reminding executives of the company’s long-standing motto, “Don’t be evil.”
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter stated. “Therefore, we ask that Project Maven be canceled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”
Despite Greene’s announcement, Project Maven has not been canceled, and Google will continue providing its services to the DOD until its contract lapses sometime in 2019, Gizmodo reported. According to several internal emails obtained by reporter Kate Conger, Google officials were optimistic that working on Project Maven could open the doors to much more lucrative contracts with the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, including a reputed $10 billion cloud computing contract, which several large tech companies have put in bids for.
According to Gizmodo, Google plans to unveil new ethical policies regarding the applications of its AI this week. Greene reportedly told her employees that Google is at the forefront of the conversation regarding responsible uses of artificial intelligence, and that “it is incumbent on [Google] to show leadership” as the technology continues to develop.