Google Employees Quit to Protest Company's Role in Killing Machines

Andrew Cummings
May 15, 2018

Since the April petition, reports have emerged that close to a dozen staffers have resigned in protest due to the company's continued involvement with Project Maven.

In April, thousands of Google staff signed a letter asking the company to pull out of "Project Maven", which involves supplying machine learning technology to the DoD to help identify and flag images for human review from thousands of hours of drone footage taken in Iraq and Syria.

The employees say executives have become less transparent to the workforce about controversial business decisions, and appear less interested in listening to objections. Nearly 4,000 employees signed an internal letter demanding Google pull out from the project, according to Bloomberg.

On Monday (14 May) more than 90 researchers and academics signed an open letter criticising the company's involvement in Project Maven, addressed to executives including Sundar Pichai and Diane Greene.

The pressure from employees, however, seem to do little in swaying Google's intent in continuing its work on Project Maven and also being the lead contender for another Pentagon cloud computing contract called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI).

While the technology giant has claimed that the work was "for non-offensive purposes", previous USA government memos make it clear the basis of the project is to "enhance military decision-making". These sessions featured speakers who supported and opposed Maven and stressed the difficulty of drafting policy about the ethical use of machine learning, an attendee explained. I realized if I can't recommend people join here, then why am I still here?

"I'm not personally responsible for everything that they do".

"At some point, I realised I could not in good faith recommend joining Google, knowing what I knew".

"An important part of our culture is having employees who are actively engaged in the work that we do".

It stated: "The private data collected by Google comes with a responsibility not only to use that data to improve its own technologies and expand its business, but also to benefit society". Google, however, has offered comment on Project Maven saying, "The technology is used to flag images for human review and is meant to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work".

Essentially, the company is using machine-learning algorithms and AI to help the United States military assess drone footage quickly.

A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment by Gizmodo about the resignations. According to Gizmodo, the resigning employees were told that that company was fleshing out a new ethics policy on AI research, but that it had yet to materialize.

Recently, Googlers voiced concerns about Maven internally. "The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave", the departing team member said.

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