Yet the Mountain View tech giant has just confirmed it is providing artificial intelligence software tools to the Department of Defense for analysis of military drone footage.
An anonymous Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company will provide TensorFlow application programming interfaces to help DoD analysts identify objects in UAS footage as part of the department's Project Maven.
It's unclear how long Google and the Department of Defense's relationship will last, as this is only a pilot project. Maven's main objective is to identify various objects in drone footage using advanced computer vision, thereby removing that burden from human analysts, who can not keep up with the vast amounts of daily data.
Google has reportedly said that their involvement with this government project is not combat related, but there has been a lot of concern raised by the employees within Google. After Gizmodo approached Google for comment, a spokesperson acknowledged that it's providing the military with APIs to help it use AI to detect objects in video footage. For this project, the Google spokesperson said that the military would only use the technology to recognize images "on unclassified data".
He observed: "There's a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly, if you will".
Google acknowledges the "valid concerns" and how the company is now discussing safeguards for machine learning. However, it's tech is being used in Project Maven which was launched in 2017.
"The immediate focus is 38 classes of objects that represent the kinds of things the department needs to detect, especially in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria", said Marine Corps Col.
The feature is part of a recent Pentagon contract involving Google's cloud unit, which is trying to wrest more government spending from cloud-computing leaders Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. During a July meeting, Schmidt and other members of the Defence Innovation Board discussed the Department of Defence's need to create a clearinghouse for training data that could be used to enhance the military's AI capability. Drew Cukor, chief of the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team, said at a defense tech summit a year ago.
Speaking to a crowd of military and industry technology experts, many from Silicon Valley, Cukor professed the United States to be in the midst of AI arms race. The DoD's press release only noted that it was "working with industry" on the project and did not name any particular company. "Key elements have to be put together ... and the only way to do that is with commercial partners alongside us".