0405 GMT November 20, 2019
The Pentagon program is testing the internet giant's artificial intelligence (AI) system to analyze vast amounts of footage captured by the US military’s unmanned surveillance planes around the world and to establish targets for drone strikes.
More 3,100 staff are thought to have signed a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, demanding that the company pulls out of pilot experiment, called Project Maven.
The program intends to help the Pentagon conduct more precise attacks by drones against targets in other countries, including Syria and Iraq.
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” says the letter. It asks that Google announce a policy that it will not “ever build warfare technology.”
This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent,” the letter says. “Amid growing fears of biased and weaponized AI, Google is already struggling to keep the public’s trust.”
Project Maven is one of the many US drone projects aimed at automatically and quickly singling out points of interest so that analysts can work more efficiently in pinpointing new targets.
Google has described its work on Project Maven as “non-offensive” in nature, though the Pentagon’s video analysis is routinely used in counterterrorism operations.
But that explanation has not convinced those Google employees who think their work is being used for attacks that have on many occasions led to civilian deaths.
Through the formation of the Defense Innovation Board in 2016, Silicon Valley has advised American military officials to adopt breakthrough technology developed by technology pioneers such as Microsoft and Amazon.
Google is widely expected to compete with other technology giants for a multiyear, multibillion-dollar contract to provide cloud services to the US Defense Department.
“The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn’t make this any less risky for Google,” the letter says. “Google’s unique history, its motto Don’t Be Evil, and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart.”
There has been a sharp rise in the number of US drone strikes since US President Donald Trump took office, according to a report published in December by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
A group of human rights organizations have expressed concern that Trump’s reported new drone policy increases the risk of civilian casualties.
The groups, which include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, said the reported policy changes lack transparency in the decision-making process.