Google employee protest: Now 'Googlers are quitting' over Pentagon drone project


Since the April petition, reports have emerged that close to a dozen staffers have resigned in protest due to the company's continued involvement with Project Maven.

The project uses Google's TensorFlow software and image-recognition algorithms to scan through millions of hours of drone footage collected by the military and use the information to identify people and objects of interest.

The resigning employees' frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google's political decisions - and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions.

Discussing their decision to leave Google, the employees told Gizmodo that they believe executives are becoming reluctant to discuss business decisions with the workforce. But according to Gizmodo, Google employees felt the company wasn't doing enough to address their concerns.

So much so that nearly 4,000 employees have reportedly signed an internal petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven, saying the project "will irreparably damage Google's brand and its ability to compete for talent". Over 90 academics in the spheres of ethics, AI, and computer science this week published an open letter asking that Google back an global treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems, and ceases work with the U.S. military. Government contracts are particularly lucrative, but in the case of Google, it seems that many of its employees do not agree with the company apparently taking on a job by the Pentagon to develop artificial intelligence (AI) for use in drones.

"We wholeheartedly support [employees'] demand that Google terminate its contract with the DoD, and that Google and its parent company Alphabet commit not to develop military technologies and not to use the personal data that they collect for military purposes", the letter states.

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"I'm not personally responsible for everything that they do".

"At some point, I realized I could not in good faith recommend anyone join Google, knowing what I knew". But I do feel responsibility when I see something that I should escalate it. The letter says Google should "commit to not weaponizing its technology" and terminate its contract with the DoD.

A spokesperson said: "The technology is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work".

According to Gizmodo, Google still hasn't developed a policy document detailing safeguards around its use of machine learning.

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Gizmodo about the resignations.

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. According to Gizmodo, the resigning employees were told that that company was fleshing out a new ethics policy on AI research, but that it had yet to materialize.