Google won't renew contract for Project Maven, controversial Pentagon drone program

Marcus Newton
June 3, 2018

Their work on Project Maven aimed to use artificial intelligence to better interpret video imagery that would, in turn, improve the targeting capabilities of military drones.

According to three individuals who attended a weekly Google meeting this morning, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced that the Project Maven contract would not be renewed when it expires next year.

But Kate Conger, a journalist for the technology news website Gizmodo, told the BBC that Google had not cancelled Project Maven and did not appear to have ruled out future work with the military.

The New York Times writes that when Google purchased the artificial intelligence firm DeepMind 2014, "The acquisition agreement [.] said DeepMind technology would never be used for military or surveillance purposes".

Google plans to honor what is left of its subcontract on Project Maven, the person said.

Through Project Maven, Google provides artificial intelligence technology to the Pentagon to help humans detect and identify targets captured by drone images.

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Google has not committed to forego signing other military contracts dealing with artificial intelligence.

Google, which declined to comment, has faced widespread public backlash and employee resignations for helping develop technological tools that could aid in warfighting. Chagrined staff also were reported to have left Google over the issue.

The debate around the project centres on Google's corporate image - its unofficial slogan was "Don't Be Evil" for years - and, although some say AI could help reduce civilian casualties from drone strikes, others believe the company should not be engaging with military at all on principle.

The decision was made in light of the internal and external controversy generated by Project Maven, according to Gizmodo. Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said it "would not be appropriate for us to comment on the relationship between a prime and sub-prime contractor holder". But when news broke, Google began working to calm the nerves of employees and outside critics.

This would all be analyzed by Google AI software, allowing analysis of a city's data in "near-real time", according to Gizmodo.

"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", the company said back in April. Additionally, e-mails showed the project was initially worth $15 million, but the budget could grow to be as high as $250 million.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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