Google reportedly won’t renew controversial drone imaging program

Following outcry from thousands of employees and the resignations of several over its work on drone and artificial intelligence (AI) technology with the USA military, Google announced Friday that it would not renew its contract on the Pentagon program known as Project Maven.

Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced the decision regarding what is known as Project Maven at a meeting on Friday, according to Gizmodo, which cited three sources.

Greene said that the contract is set to expire in 2019 and that Google will not pursue a follow-up bid, according to Gizmodo. Greene said Google chose to work on Project Maven "at a time when Google was more aggressively pursuing military work", Gizmodo reported.

There "will be no follow-on" to the project, she reportedly added. The company plans to unveil new ethical principles about its use of AI next week.

A senior Google scientist once warned in an email that winning a military artificial-intelligence contract would spark a controversy beyond the company's control. Development on Maven necessitated higher security authorizations for Google's cloud infrastructure, which, once granted, opened the door to billions of dollars worth of Pentagon contracts.

In today's meeting, Greene told employees that Google is at the forefront of the conversation about the ethical use of artificial intelligence. But Project Maven is different, as the tech company actively bid on the military contract and is also actively providing support for the new technology it's building for the Pentagon.

Apart from a few resignations, about 4,000 of the company's employees signed a petition asking Google to stop getting involved in the "questionable practice of targeted killings".

Google did not immediately respond to the online magazine's request for comment, Gizmodo said.

Later, about a dozen Google staffers resigned in protest.

As Wired recently pointed out, Project Maven is poised to expand-with or without Google. Project Maven was Google's first major contract with Pentagon after which the company was eyeing for bigger contracts with intelligence agencies. It's unknown what Google's future relationship with the Pentagon will be like. Google "should not be in the business of war", according to the letter to Pichai that was signed by thousands of disgruntled employees.

The military, Work said, wants to further develop AI "computer vision" techniques that can process the video from powerful sensor programs such as Gorgon Stare, a drone technology that can capture full-motion video of an entire city.

Google insists that the technology it is developing for the United States military will be for "non-offensive uses only".

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