Google Abandons Pentagon's AI-Drone 'Project Maven' After Employee Revolt

Just two weeks after around a dozen Google employees quit and close to 4,000 signed a petition over the company's involvement in a controversial military pilot program known as "Project Maven" - which will use artificial intelligence to speed up analysis of drone footage - Buzzfeed reports that Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees during an internal meeting that the tech company was "not following through" on Maven.

As a reminder, Project Maven was to use machine learning to identify vehicles and other objects from drone footage - with the ultimate goal of enabling the automated detection and identification of objects in up to 38 categories - including the ability to track individuals as they come and go from different locations.

Project Maven’s objective, according to Air Force Lt. Gen. John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, director for Defense Intelligence for Warfighter Support in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, “is to turn the enormous volume of data available to DoD into actionable intelligence and insights." -DoD

The internal revolt began shortly after Google revealed its involvement in the project nearly three months ago

Some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning. -Gizmodo

The resigned employees cited a range of frustrations, from ethical concerns over the use of AI in a battlefield setting, to larger concerns over Google's overall political decisions. The disgruntled ex-employees, apparently unaware that Google was seed-funded by the NSA and CIA, have compiled a master document of personal accounts detailing their decisions to leave, which multiple sources have described to Gizmodo.

The employees who are resigning in protest, several of whom discussed their decision to leave with Gizmodo, say that executives have become less transparent with their workforce about controversial business decisions and seem less interested in listening to workers’ objections than they once did. In the case of Maven, Google is helping the Defense Department implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones. But some employees believe humans, not algorithms, should be responsible for this sensitive and potentially lethal work—and that Google shouldn’t be involved in military work at all.

Historically, Google has promoted an open culture that encourages employees to challenge and debate product decisions. But some employees feel that their leadership no longer as attentive to their concerns, leaving them to face the fallout. “Over the last couple of months, I’ve been less and less impressed with the response and the way people’s concerns are being treated and listened to,” one employee who resigned said. -Gizmodo

But, as Buzzfeed now reports, the current contract will end in 2019, and Google will not pursue another.

Google's decision, which Gizmodo first reported, was announced by Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene during an internal meeting for employees called Weather Report.

"We've always said this was an 18-month contract that we did, so it ends in March of 2019," Greene said, according to a source familiar with the meeting.

"And there will be no follow-on to Maven."

Did Google suddenly return to its "don't be evil" roots? Or did Project Maven just get 'skunkworked' underground somewhere else - for an even bigger budget?


greenskeeper carl vato poco Fri, 06/01/2018 - 18:50 Permalink

Well, good for those employees. An computer program figuring out targets to kill? No thanks, I've seen that movie before, several of them.


This does make sense from the pentagon's point of view, though. Drone pilots constantly burning out and having substance abuse problems because of the things they do from the air is bad for business. Just put a computer program in charge, solves that problem. Plus, you don't have to worry about the computer program talking to the media or giving remorseful interviews about the kids they've killed, etc.

In reply to by vato poco

ClickNLook ACP Fri, 06/01/2018 - 19:43 Permalink

How exactly have they "revolted"?

Did they throw their custom coffee drinks on the floor, talked in squeaky voices to each other, raised their hands in anger, made some incoherent threats toward management in their private conversations, scotched a few more Dilbert cartoons on the outer walls of their cubicles? This kind of revolt?

In reply to by ACP

greenskeeper carl greenskeeper carl Fri, 06/01/2018 - 20:47 Permalink

I think some of you are misinterpreting what i said about it making sense for the pentagon to do this. Im not defending this, or our drone war, or any of the other nonsense. Not in the least, im doing the opposite. But, from their point of view, it makes perfect sense. Hard to keep getting people to do this to other people. At least people who aren't sociopaths. This would take that out of the equation. Computers don't feel anything after all. Pretty scary.


Just wait until there an algorithm that tracks people down who type shit like this on sites like this one and hunts them down. Hang on a sec, someones knocking on my d-

In reply to by greenskeeper carl

DisorderlyConduct Fri, 06/01/2018 - 19:12 Permalink

So the whiners just got voted off the island and the project went dark.

Cause if ayone thinks they are giving up a fat no-budget .gov project because of a few whiners, you don't know what makes the world go round. Money.