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Google employees want CEO Sundar Pichai to pull out of Pentagon AI project

Employees have called on Sundar Pichai to enforce policy which restrains Google and its subsidiaries from ever building 'warfare technology.'

  • Published: April 5, 2018 3:39 PM IST

Google employees want CEO Sundar Pichai to pull the company out of a Pentagon AI project, which they say is akin to building warfare technology. Over 3,100 Google employees have signed a petition opposing the company’s participation in the project which leverages AI technology to analyze video for improved drone targeting.

It was recently reported that Google will lend AI TensorFlow programming kits to the Pentagon’s Project Maven, which reportedly did not go down well with Google employees, who have signed the petition. In the petition letter, the employees have also urged the company to enforce a policy which restrains it from building warfare technology.

As Engadget reports, after the news about Google’s partnership with Pentagon broke, employees were outraged that the government would use Google’s tech to improve drone operations. Pentagon’s Project Maven was announced last year. It essentially aims to use machine learning to get ‘actionable’ intelligence more quickly. Google’s AI tech would improve the system’s ability to parse video and could be used to better identify both targets and civilians.

Google maintains that its participation in the project was ‘non-offensive’, however, Google employees believe that the involvement would nonetheless damage the company’s reputation. As per the letter to Pichai, “Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust.” The letter further reads, “The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google. Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.”

Responding to the concerns of the employees, Google told the publication, “An important part of our culture is having employees who are actively engaged in the work that we do. We know that there are many open questions involved in the use of new technologies, so these conversations – with employees and outside experts – are hugely important and beneficial.”

“Maven is a well-publicized DoD project and Google is working on one part of it – specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes and using open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer. The models are based on unclassified data only. The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work.”

“Any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic and also with outside experts, as we continue to develop our policies around the development and use of our machine learning technologies.”

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The reports arrive days after a woman shooter opened fire at YouTube’s headquarters in California. The woman, identified as 39-year-old Nasim Najafi Aghdam, shot three people at the headquarters before killing herself. After investigations, it has come to light that she was allegedly upset at YouTube and the way it monetized local creators on its platform.

The killings prompted tech biggies, the likes of Twitter and Uber, to call for gun control. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey posted a tweet calling on a change in policies, while Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reiterated the need to end gun violence.

  • Published Date: April 5, 2018 3:39 PM IST