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Google will let its AI contract with the Pentagon expire after backlash

By Sommer Brokaw
The Google search engine. (UPI/Shutterstock/George Dolgikh)
The Google search engine. (UPI/Shutterstock/George Dolgikh)

June 2 (UPI) -- Google announced it won't renew a contract with the Pentagon for artificial intelligence work months after the project became public in light of employee protests.

Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees about the decision to let the contract expire Friday, Gizmodo reported. In March, the news blog revealed the controversial work in a report.

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Google provided AI technology to the U.S. Department of Defense to hasten analysis of drone footage by automatically interpreting video images in a program called Project Maven. The contract for the work will expire in 2019.

About 4,000 Google employees asked the technology giant to cancel the contract in a signed petition. The petition also demanded the company implement "a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology," the New York Times reported. Dozens of Google employees resigned in protest over the Pentagon contract, Gizmodo reported.

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Other tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft have pursued Pentagon contracts without backlash, the Times reported.

Gizmodo reviewed internal emails that showed executives viewed Project Maven as an exciting opportunity to expand its work with the military, but wanted to keep the project under wraps because of concern about how it would impact the company's brand image.

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"I think we should do a good PR on the story of DoD collaborating with GCP from a vanilla cloud technology angle (storage, network, security, etc.), but avoid at ALL COSTS any mention or implication of AI," Fei-Fei Li, chief scientist for AI at Google Cloud, wrote in an email on September 24, 2017.

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"Google is already battling with privacy issues when it comes to AI and data; I don't know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry," she added.

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