Since news emerged in March that Google was working with the U.S. military to use machine learning to analyze drone footage, some employees have been debating and protesting the decision. Many Googlers have expressed discontent through a petition, while others are now beginning to quit over the matter.
Employees see the machine learning project as being fundamentally opposed to the company’s long running motto of “Don’t be evil.” Project Maven uses machine learning to identify objects in drone footage, a task ideally suited for ML given the amount of footage and limited manpower for review.
A Googler-circulated petition in April that asked Sundar Pichai to cancel the project and commit to not building “warfare technology” has grown from over 3,000 signatures to 4,000 today, according to a new Bloomberg report.
Gizmodo also revealed that a dozen or so employees have quit in protest, with many not finding arguments from several executive-led forums and debates “persuasive.” This includes how the underlying TensorFlow technology is open source and can already be readily used by the military, or how other companies would win the contracts.
Google acknowledges these valid concerns and is working on developing “policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies.” However, those new guidelines have yet to emerge.
Meanwhile, Pichai has to balance talent retention with burgeoning spending by governments and the military for cloud services and artificial intelligence. Google Cloud in recent months and years has worked towards securing enterprise and recently health contracts, and is now beginning to enter the government sector.