Google will stop selling its artificial intelligence expertise to the Pentagon in a controversial partnership that saw massive pushback from the Mountain View firm's employees, according to a new report.
The digital advertising and search giant, which holds "Do the right thing" as its motto and hauled in $110 billion in revenue last year, had sought to use "Project Maven" as a "golden opportunity" and stepping stone to lucrative military contracts, the report said.
Maven grew out of the Pentagon's "Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team" and is focused on using sophisticated artificial intelligence "computer vision" software to analyze imagery gathered by drones flying over war zones, according to the Defense Department.
"People and computers will work symbiotically to increase the ability of weapon systems to detect objects," U.S. Marine Col. Drew Cukor, chief of the algorithmic warfare team, said of the Pentagon's work to bring AI into drone operations.
At Google, news that the company had won a Project Maven contract led dozens of employees to resign and thousands to sign a petition calling for the firm to withdraw from the contract, Gizmodo reported.
Now, it appears that the blowback pressured Google into backing away from Maven: the contract expires next year and won't be renewed, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees in a meeting Friday morning, according to Gizmodo.
Greene told Googlers the backlash against the firm's involvement in the project had been terrible for the company, Gizmodo reported.
The online tech magazine said it had obtained internal correspondence showing that high-ranking Googlers had been eagerly anticipating the benefits Maven could bring to the company, and offering up expertise that could boost the Pentagon's eyes-in-the-skies capabilities.
"Internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo show that executives viewed Project Maven as a golden opportunity that would open doors for business with the military and intelligence agencies," Gizmodo reported.
"The emails also show that Google and its partners worked extensively to develop machine learning algorithms for the Pentagon, with the goal of creating a sophisticated system that could surveil entire cities."
However, company bigwigs worried about how its Pentagon work might look, according to Gizmodo.
"The two sets of emails reveal that Google's senior leadership was enthusiastically supportive of Project Maven -- especially because it would set Google Cloud on the path to win larger Pentagon contracts -- but deeply concerned about how the company's involvement would be perceived," Gizmodo reported.
Google Cloud's chief scientist, Fei-Fei Li, had written in a September email that the company should do "good PR" on its work for the Defense Department, and make sure to keep the AI aspect of it secret, Gizmodo reported.
"Google is already battling with privacy issues when it comes to AI and data," Li reportedly wrote.
"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."
While Greene had told employees during meeting that Maven was worth $9 million to the company, internal correspondence revealed the original contract -- secured in September -- was for $15 million, and that the overall budget for Maven was expected to hit at least $250 million, according to Gizmodo.
Google did not immediately respond to the online magazine's request for comment, Gizmodo said.
This article is written by Ethan Baron from Mercury News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.