Google’s involvement in a Pentagon project that uses artificial intelligence to analyze footage taken by aerial drones has reportedly caused a dozen company employees to resign in protest.
Ethical concerns over the AI powering drone warfare, and Google’s involvement in the project clashing with its “do-gooder principles,” are among the reasons why the employees are departing, Gizmodo reports.
The resignations come as Google staffers have been circulating an internal letter, demanding that the company end its involvement with Project Maven, a Defense Department initiative to integrate AI into the US military.
Project Maven specifically seeks to tap computer vision technology to analyze countless hours of aerial drone footage for anything human eyes might have missed. The first goal of the project has been to help the Pentagon defeat the terrorist group ISIS in the hopes the AI system can enhance “military decision-making.”
However, Google’s involvement in the effort has triggered resistance within company ranks. Almost 4,000 employees signed an internal letter demanding Google pull out from the project, according to Bloomberg. For perspective, Google’s parent, Alphabet, has 85,000 employees.
On Monday, over 200 professors, scientists, and academics also signed an open letter, opposing Google’s participation in Project Maven, claiming that the technologies at stake could be easily weaponzied.
“We are then just a short step away from authorizing autonomous drones to kill automatically, without human supervision or meaningful human control,” the letter reads.
So far, Google hasn’t commented on the reported resignations. But the company previously said its participation in Project Maven has been focused on “non-offensive purposes.” The computer vision technology involved is also open-source and available to any Google Cloud customer.
Google also previously told PCMag: “The technology is used to flag images for human review and is intended to save lives and save people from having to do highly tedious work.”
Even so, Google’s arguments aren’t placating everyone. 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.