For some Google employees, there was a line that was crossed when their company forged ahead with a controversial new project in alliance with the U.S. government. Dubbed “Project Maven,” the work entails classifying objects and people from drone footage using artificial intelligence and machine learning. This potentially powerful and dangerous tool could be used to launch drone attacks on specific people or objects without the oversight of a single human being, reported Gizmodo.
In addition to concerns over “drone warfare,” some employees believe that the project violates trust with the users, which is something that’s on everyone’s minds following Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Unhappy employees reported that the company no longer appeared to care about their employees’ input, and seemed to move ahead with the project even though many people voiced their numerous concerns. For some employees, it was wrong for the company to even do any business with the military in any shape or form.
And the Google employees are not alone in raising their concerns. In addition to the 4,000 employees that signed an internal petition, the Tech Workers Coalition demanded that all tech companies, including Google, IBM, and Amazon, turn down any partnership or work with the U.S. military. The demand makes the importance of this clear, saying, “These are life and death stakes.” Additionally, an open letter was published today with the backing of 90 academics in all areas of technology, ethics, and computer science, calling for Google to cut ties with the military and end their work with Project Maven.
Although it was a difficult decision, the employees that resigned did it to stand up for themselves and their own ethics. For some people that learned about the project in-depth, they could not allow themselves to stay silent about the project and feel good about calling themselves a Google employee. One former employee made their point simple.
“Actions speak louder than words, and that’s a standard I hold myself to as well…I wasn’t happy just voicing my concerns internally. The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave.”
Although specific details of the drone program have yet to be known to the public, the amount of outrage within the internal staff is an indicator of the seriousness of the situation. As technology improves and evolves at a rapid pace, the public can barely keep up with all of the information. And when it comes to artificial intelligence and machine learning, the topic can seem complex, leaving many people in the dark about its true implications.
Regardless of all of the protests by employees, Google reportedly has defended the project several times.