Google Employees Are Quitting in Protest of Pentagon Contract for Drones, Report Says

Google is supposed to be one of the dream places tech workers would love to work in, but for some employees, there's a line that they are simply not willing to cross. According to reports, about a dozen Google employees have resigned to protest the company's ongoing AI work for Pentagon, known as Project Maven.

It has just been made public that Google is now partnered with the US Department of Defense, and they are starting with Project Maven as a pilot program, one that will help the Pentagon develop artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage, as Gizmodo reported last March.

Wikimedia Commons/Noah_LoverbearAn exterior view of Google's headquarters, also known as Googleplex, in Mountain View, California, US as taken on Apr. 13, 2014.

It was a move that allegedly caused internal outrage within Google, as some employees could not accept that they will be helping the military with surveillance technology for its drone operations. This AI technology is focused on helping drones analyze what they are seeing, and classify objects like vehicles, houses and people accordingly.

"There's a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly," Eric Schmidt, former chairman of Google, spoke about the debate in a keynote address late last year.

"The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only. Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We're actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies," a spokesperson for Google added.

While the resigning employees cited ethical concerns over what amounts to Google's AI research possibly contributing to things like drone warfare, there are also other issues that pushed them to quit.

Wikimedia Commons/David B. GleasonAn aerial photo of The Pentagon, headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, taken from an Airplane in Jan. 12, 2008.

Google executives, according to some of them, have increasingly become less transparent over decisions like these with their own employees, especially with work that may have military applications.

There is now an online petition on Coworker.org that calls for Google to break its engagement with the Pentagon. According to the petition, over three thousand employees of Google have already written a letter opposing Project Maven. This number includes dozens of senior engineers and is addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war," the letter began, as obtained by the New York Times. The message goes on to ask that Project Maven be canceled and that Google put in place a new policy that prevents the company or its contractors from contributing to warfare technology.

For some of the resigning employees that still hold to the company's motto "Don't be evil," building Artificial Intelligence tools for the Department of Defense and its drones represent the first step into more military-oriented applications of Google's technology.

"We can no longer ignore our industry's and our technologies' harmful biases, large scale breaches of trust, and lack of ethical safeguards. These are life and death stakes," the online petition emphasized.

For its part, protests from employees seem to have done little to make Google reconsider its contracts with the Pentagon.