An MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle lands at Joint Base Balad, Iraq on November 20, 2008. This week, Google employees protested the company's involvement in a U.S. government drone strike program. File Photo by Erik Gudmundson/U.S. Air Force/UPI | License Photo
April 6 (UPI) -- Thousands of Google employees are protesting the company's plans to help the Pentagon use artificial intelligence for drone strikes.
In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, the employees voiced opposition to Project Maven, "a customized AI surveillance engine that uses 'Wide Area Motion Imagery' data captured by U.S. government drones to detect vehicles and other objects, track their motions, and provide results to the Department of Defense."
The letter, which The New York Times reported was signed by thousands of employees, including dozens of senior engineers, says employees first voiced their opposition internally.
At that time, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene said the company's program will not "operate or fly drones" and "will not be used to launch weapons." But employees were concerned that the information Google provides to the Department of Defense could eventually be used for drone strikes, which they say would put the company in "the ranks of companies like Palantir, Raytheon and General Dynamics."
"The argument that other firms, like Microsoft and Amazon, are also participating doesn't make this any less risky for Google," the letter states. "Google's unique history, its motto 'Don't Be Evil,' and its direct reach into the lives of billions of users set it apart."
"We cannot outsource the moral responsibility of our technologies to third parties," the letter continues. "Google's stated values make this clear: Every one of our users is trusting us. Never jeopardize that. Ever. This contract puts Google's reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the U.S. Government in military surveillance -- and potentially lethal outcomes -- is not acceptable."
The employees asked Pichai to cancel the project and draft policy stating Google will not assist in building warfare technology.
Pichai has not yet issued a public response to the employee letter.
The U.S. government has been conducting drone strikes in various countries for several years.
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, between 2,515 and 4,026 people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004. In Afghanistan, between 3,420 and 4,719 people were killed by drone strikes since 2015. Between 509 and 659 people have been killed since 2007 in Somalia. And in Yemen, the U.S. government has killed between 324 and 879 people by drone trike since 2002.