Google employees quit over controversial Project Maven

12 employees have left the company following Google's collaboration with the US Department of Defense

15 May 2018
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Earlier this year, it was revealed that “Don’t be evil” ethos-holder Google was assisting the US Department of Defense in a little-known project called Project Maven. Essentially, the company was using machine-learning algorithms to help military drones. Obviously, Google’s employees weren’t happy with the company’s dirty dealings in warfare, with almost 4,000 employees signing a petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven.

Now, according to Gizmodo, at least a dozen employees have quit over Google’s involvement in the project, raising objections to how the company’s involvement was brought to light. According to Gizmodo’s sources, they also raised other political and social concerns – such as the company’s sponsorship of the Conservative Political Action Conference and its problem with diversity.

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“At some point, I realised I could not in good faith recommend joining Google, knowing what I knew. I realised if I can’t recommend people join here, then why am I still here?” a resigning Google employee told Gizmodo.

Project Maven looks to help the US military assess drone footage quickly using AI and machine learning. It’s intended to detect vehicles and objects, track their movements and report this information back to the Department of Defense. It has been deeply controversial within Google, with employees saying that it jeopardises trust and goes against the company’s core beliefs. 

Employees who signed the petition are calling on Google to cancel Project Maven and “draft, publicise and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”

“I tried to remind myself right that Google’s decisions are not my decisions. I’m not personally responsible for everything they do. But I do feel responsibility when I see something that I should escalate it,” another resigning employee told Gizmodo.

Google has defended itself by arguing that the technology the military is using is open-source and thus can be used regardless of the company’s actual involvement, and insisted that the technology would not be used for combat operations. When the story first broke, it told Gizmodo: “The technology flags images for human review and is for non-offensive uses only. Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards.”

Other companies such as IBM and Amazon have refused to work with the Department of Defense, so it’s interesting that Google is failing to take its employees’ concerns onboard. Yesterday, more than 90 academics in computer science, AI and ethics signed an open letter calling on the company to end its work on Project Maven. With the building controversy, it will be interesting to see if Google back down from the project, or whether we will see a mass exodus of employees.

We’ve reached out to Google for comment.

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