Google Doesn’t Want To Help Save American Military Members
Thousands of Google employees have signed a letter protesting a project that the company has negotiated with the Department of Defense. Project Maven will help the Pentagon improve military drones, and employees are unhappy participating in the “business of war.”
So far, the letter has been signed by more than 3,000 employees and is addressed to Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. As a part of the project, Google will be using specialized high-powered software to analyze thousands of hours of footage taken by drones in Iraq and Syria in order to identify images that should be reviewed by humans.
Google has responded to say that their involvement is “nonoffensive” because the drones are analyzing footage, not acquiring targets to fire weapons, but the 3,000 employees agree.
From the letter,
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war. Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”
The letter also states that signers believe they are “outsourcing their moral responsibility” and that their users trust the stated values of Google.
(A few years ago, Google quietly got rid of their motto “Don’t Be Evil, so make your own assumption as to what Google’s values are.)
As a search engine, Google was founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin while they studies for PhDs at Stanford in California, and they still own a majority of voting power as stockholders. The company has since branched into a full suite of services from email and other productivity applications. Online holdings have become so vast that we forget that they own Google Maps, Google Docs, Gmail, Google Translate and YouTube.
The current CEO of the Mountain View (near San Francisco) company is Sundar Pichai, an Indian-born engineer who took his first post secondary degree in India before moving to America and working at Google starting in 2004.
While Pichai is currently a citizen of the United States, it is difficult to verify whether Pichai arrived to the United States on the H1B visas that allow tech companies to import foreign workers over Americans.
Google first joined up with the Department of Defense in early March 2018 to help them work on improving drone software for Project Maven, also know as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team. The partnership was leaked to media a few days before it was officially announced.
Project Maven will allow the Pentagon to quickly analyze drone footage. It’s safer to use drones than to use troops, and properly programmed, a drone can do the work of hundreds of people at once.
According to a news release from the DOD last summer,
“Project Maven focuses on computer vision — an aspect of machine learning and deep learning — that autonomously extracts objects of interest from moving or still imagery… Biologically inspired neural networks are used in this process, and deep learning is defined as applying such neural networks to learning tasks.”
For those that don’t speak nerd, Project Maven is attempting to create software that can process enough information that it can see and react to its environment. Software this complicated means that you can’t write a program that can recognize images, but that you have to write software that can continue to write itself as it “learns.”
At the time, the DOD were still in talks with Google to develop the program:
“We also have a relationship with a significant data-labeling company that will provide services across our three networks — the unclassified and the classified networks — to allow our workforce to label our data and prepare it for machine learning.”
Machine learning is not an exact process but describes any sort of program that allows a machine to use its programming to add to its programming. Imagine if your coffee machine was able to read into your behavior. The more you interacted with the machine, it would learn that on days that you were up later at night, it would brew more coffee without being asked because it could piece together that hearing Netflix on until 2am was often correlated with making more coffee the next day. That would be an example of machine learning. In order for a machine to “learn” it has to be able to take in a process vast amounts of information, figure out what facts are related, and then permanently apply it to its own programming.
Sources: Silicon Angle, Tech Crunch, Wikipedia, Department of Defense