According to a report by Gizmodo, Google has decided not to renew its controversial contract for Project Maven with the Department of Defense. The project involved analyzing drone footage using artificial intelligence with the ultimate goal of automatically classifying images of objects and people. The contract is set to expire in 2019, and the decision not to renew was announced internally during a weekly meeting by Google Cloud chief Diane Greene, who added that the company will announce new ethical principles surrounding artificial intelligence and the military.
Three sources who were at the meeting told Gizmodo that Greene attributed Google’s decision to let the contract expire “because the backlash has been terrible for the company.” She added that the decision to embark on the project had been made “at a time when Google was more aggressively pursuing military work.”
Indeed, almost 4,000 of Google employees recently signed a petition asking Google to cancel the project. “This contract puts Google’s reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values,” the petition read. “Building this technology to assist the US government in military surveillance—and potentially lethal outcomes—is not acceptable.”
In May, dozens of employees even resigned over the matter in May. Those who resigned were worried about the ethical implications of the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare, but they were also concerned with Google’s political motives and the potential for loss of user trust.
Google has defended the project by downplaying the company’s involvement, arguing that the company contributes in a minor role, “merely providing the Defense Department with open-source software,” Gizmodo reports. However, internal e-mails obtained by Gizmodo tell a different story: senior leadership at Google was very supportive of the project and were excited by the opportunity for more government projects. Additionally, e-mails showed the project was initially worth $15 million, but the budget could grow to be as high as $250 million.
In related news, but on May 18, Google changed its code of conduct and removed previous references to one of the company’s longtime mottos, “Don’t be evil,” replacing it with “Do the right thing.”