Revelations that Google is quietly working with the U.S. military on Project Maven, to develop artificial intelligence software to analyze drone surveillance footage has reportedly provoked internal divisions over how the company should be run.
A DoD press release on Project Maven says the project aims to help deal with the “millions of hours of video” the military collects. Drone footage is pouring into the Pentagon at a rate faster than human analysts can keep up with, so the hope is that machine learning could help do some of the heavy lifting and identify interesting footage.
Project Maven, commenced last April, utilises Google’s TensorFlow AI to analyse the footage shot by unmanned planes.
TensorFlow scans the film for objects of interest and flags them for human analysts with a view to further investigation.
According to Gizmodo, some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, sources said, while others argued that the project raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning, particularly in light of the company’s famous founding principle: “Don’t be evil.”
Google’s Eric Schmidt summed up the tech industry’s concerns about collaborating with the Pentagon at a talk last fall. “There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly,” he said. While Google says its involvement in Project Maven is not related to combat uses, the issue has still sparked concern among employees, sources said.
The company has worked with the US Military in the past. Google executive Milo Medin, and former Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt are on the Defense Innovation Board, an independent federal committee, and advised the Pentagon on data analysis and potential cloud-based solutions.
Google also oversaw the development of the BigDog robotic packhorse, built by Boston Dynamics when it was owned by parent corporation Alphabet in 2015. Originally conceived in 2005, the stalking quadruped was repurposed to assist the Marine Corps before ultimately being abandoned on the grounds that it was too noisy for stealth combat manoeuvres.