Three months ago, both Google employees as well as the general public learned of the company’s plans to provide artificial intelligence to a military pilot program named Project Maven.
The program was supposedly going to be used to quicken analysis of drone footage by classifying objects and people.
Since then, Google employees have risen ethical concerns about Maven, citing the use of AI in drone warfare alongside Google’s political decisions.
With those worries out in the open, a dozen Google employees chose to resign. They wrote their personal accounts concerning their decision to leave the company and those accounts have since then been collected and shared in an internal document.
The employees cite the lack of transparency of the executives as one of the reasons they decided to leave, as well as their belief that Google should not be involved in military work.
They believe that algorithms should not be responsible for work that can potentially prove to be lethal and such work should be left in the hands of human operators.
It’s well known that Google has always encouraged a work ethic where employees are at liberty to challenge the executive decisions, but recently, the employees say that there is less and less interest in the workers’ objections or their worries.
This is the first time in Google’s history that the company is faced with mass resignation in the form of a protest, following an executive decision.
In addition, nearly 4,000 other Google employees voiced their opinions concerning Project Maven in an internal petition which demands that Google cancels the contract. In the eyes of the employees, Google’s partnership with the Maven Project goes against the company’s principles.
In April, the Tech Workers Coalition launched another petition that asked Google to abandon its work on Maven. Moreover, the petition demanded that a handful of other tech companies, such as IBM and Amazon, refuse to work with the U.S Defense Department.
“It’s not like Google is this little machine-learning startup that’s trying to find clients in different industries,” a vacating employee said for Gizmodo. “It just seems like it makes sense for Google and Google’s reputation to stay out of that.”
Over 90 academics in artificial intelligence, ethics and computer science have released an open letter that insists that Google ends its work on Project Maven.
Google has insisted that the AI is not being used to kill and has made efforts to defend Maven before its employees by hosting several open sessions for debate and discussion.
In spite of their efforts, both the employees who chose to resign, as well as the academics who study the field of machine learning, are still worried about the use of AI for military purposes.
Nevertheless, Google is not yet swayed by the pressure from its employees. On the contrary, rumor has it that it is one of the main competitors for another Pentagon computing contract, the JEDI, which is currently up for grabs.