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Google employees urge the company to get out of the business of war

Published Apr 5th, 2018 8:31PM EDT
Google Pentagon Contract
Image: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/REX/Shutterstock

As much as Google may want to work with the government on war-related projects, it turns out that its employees are unsurprisingly huge fans of that ‘don’t be evil’ mantra that Google has been promoting for years.

In a letter to Sundar Pichai, more than 3,100 Google employees urged the CEO to take Google out of Project Maven.

It’s unclear what kind of technology Google is providing to the government, but the company is working on Project Maven. That’s a Department of Defense drone surveillance initiative that use artificial intelligence to interpret recorded data and detect the movements of vehicles and other targets.

The letter reveals that employees voiced their Maven concerns recently. Google’s Diane Greene responded that the tech will not “operate or fly drones” and “will not be used to launch weapons.” The employees who penned the letter still believe that the technology, once delivered, could be used to assist with the kind of tasks Greene ruled out.

“This plan will irreparably damage Google’s brand and its ability to compete for talent,” the letter reads, adding that the involvement of other tech companies, including Microsoft and Amazon, doesn’t make it any less risky for Google.

“We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties,” the Googlers said. “Google’s stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance – and potentially lethal outcomes – is not acceptable.”

Google told The New York Times that “we’re actively engaged across the company in a comprehensive discussion of this important topic,” without directly acknowledging the letter. Google employees familiar with it would not go on record about the letter for fear of retaliation.

Google has more than 70,000 employees, which means that less than 5% of them signed the letter. But those who signed the letter are worried that Google might enter in more lucrative Pentagon deals down the road, as the applications of AI in warfare grow.

Google also told The Times that the Pentagon “open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer.”

“The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work,” Google said.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he closely follows the events in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises. Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.