More than 3,000 Google employees have signed a letter demanding that the company withdraw from a Pentagon-led AI project.
Project Maven is intended to develop AI technology capable of automatically analysing military videos captured by drones and could potentially be used improve the precision of drone strikes, according to The New York Times.
The newspaper claims that 3,100 Google staff have signed the letter addressed to CEO Sundar Pichai over involvement in the project that, they believe, egregiously contravenes the company's 'Don't be evil' motto.
"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicise and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology," the letter implores.
Google didn't reference the letter directly, but in a statement noted that Project Maven is meant to be used for non-offensive capabilities.
"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," the company said in a statement.
The letter comes after some staff raised concerns about Google's involvement in Project Maven at a recent company-wide meeting. Diane Greene, the VMWare co-founder who now heads up Google's cloud infrastructure business, defended the deal in front of staff, according to the New York Times. Google describes the Project as "non-offensive" in nature.
This week, without referencing the letter, Pichai publicly said that "any military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns", and he eluded to "a comprehensive discussion of this important topic" internally.
Google, almost since its inception, has encouraged staff to speak out about the way in which the company is run. However, there's evidence to suggest that it is becoming increasingly politicised, causing a certain amount of friction.
Indeed, the New York Times claims that staff would only speak to it about the letter anonymously and off-the-record for fear of retaliation.
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