Google's march to the business of war must be stopped

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
May 16, 2018

Should Google, a global company with intimate access to the lives of billions, use its technology to bolster one country’s military dominance? Should it use its state of the art artificial intelligence technologies, its best engineers, its cloud computing services, and the vast personal data that it collects to contribute to programs that advance the development of autonomous weapons? Should it proceed despite moral and ethical opposition by several thousand of its own employees?

Gizmodo reported this week that more than a dozen Google employees have resigned over Google providing AI support to a Pentagon drone program called Project Maven, which aims to improve the ability of drones to identify humans. This follows a public letter, signed by 3,100-plus Google employees who say that Google should not be in the business of war.

We agree with and support those employees and we are joined by more than 700 academic researchers who study digital technologies. We support their demand that Google terminates its contract with the US Department of Defense (DoD), that the company commit not to weaponize the personal data they collect, or support the development of autonomous weapons. We also urge their executives to join other artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers and technology executives in supporting an international treaty to prohibit autonomous weapon systems.

Google has long sought to organize and enhance the usefulness of the world’s information, and along the way it has taken responsibility for collecting our most intimate information, from our personal correspondence to our calendars, to our location data, to our private photos. Being entrusted with such personal information comes with the responsibility to protect it, and to use it carefully, in ways that respect the global makeup of those who contribute these records of their lives.

Given this grave responsibility, news of Google’s involvement in the defense department’s Project Maven alarmed many of us who study digital technologies. Maven is a US military program that applies AI to drone surveillance videos for the purpose of detecting “objects of interest”, which are flagged for human analysts. Google is providing not only AI technologies (potentially built in part on the personal data that Google collects), but also engineers and expertise to the DoD. Maven is already being used “in the Middle East” and the project is slated to expand by next summer, eventually being used on blanket surveillance footage from “a sophisticated, hi-tech series of cameras … that can view entire towns”.

Read the full piece at The Guardian