Hundreds of academics have urged Google to abandon its work on a U.S. Department of Defense-led drone program codenamed "Project Maven" that is using artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to help analyze huge amounts of captured surveillance footage.
It's expected to develop artificial intelligence capable of sifting through vast quantities of aerial imagery and recognising objects of interest.
Now, according to Gizmodo, "about a dozen" Google employees are resigning due to Project Maven. But some employees believe humans, not algorithms, should be responsible for this sensitive and potentially lethal work-and that Google shouldn't be involved at all. Earlier today we reported that Google was being investigated in Australia over the claims that it was harvesting data from millions of Android users who were unknowingly paying the telecos for gigabytes of data used during data harvesting.
So much so that nearly 4,000 employees have reportedly signed an internal petition asking Google to end its participation in Project Maven, saying the project "will irreparably damage Google's brand and its ability to compete for talent".
A USA service member passes in front of a MQ-9 Reaper drone, one of a squadron that has arrived to step up the fight against the Taliban, at the Kandahar air base, Afghanistan, January 23.
"With Project Maven, Google becomes implicated in the questionable practice of targeted killings". Currently, its letter has almost 500 signatures. The company's motto "Don't Be Evil" famously embraces this responsibility.
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We've reached out to Google for comment. Scientists are concerned that the technology could be weaponized in the not-so-distant future.
"If ethical action on the part of tech companies requires consideration of who might benefit from a technology and who might be harmed, then we can say with certainty that no topic deserves more sober reflection - no technology has higher stakes - than algorithms meant to target and kill at a distance and without public accountability", reads the letter.
So far about 4,000 workers have signed the petition out of the roughly 85,000 workers that Alphabet, Google's parent company, employs. "Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns".
The group wants Google to terminate its role in Project Maven, vow never to develop military technologies nor use personal data it has collected for military operations, and promise never to participate in the development of autonomous weapons.
Lieutenant Colonel Garry Floyd, deputy chief of the Algorithmic Warfare Cross Functional Team, said in a keynote earlier this month that Maven was already active in "five or six" combat locations.