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15 May 2018, 07:44 | Hattie Nash
MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle
It's been almost three months since many Google employees, and the public, learned about the company's decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people.
It read: "Project Maven is a United States military program aimed at using machine learning to analyze massive amounts of drone surveillance footage and to label objects of interest for human analysts".
Some 4,000 employees have now signed the petition against Project Maven and "about a dozen" have resigned due to Google's continued involvement in the project, according to Gizmodo.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that more than 90 academics have this week released an open letter that has called on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an global treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems.
The employees are also not impressed with company executives' response to the initial protest, which called on Google to cancel its contracting role in Project Maven and vow never to build technology for war.
"The DoD contracts under consideration by Google, and similar contracts already in place at Microsoft and Amazon, signal a unsafe alliance between the private tech industry, now in possession of vast quantities of sensitive personal data collected from people across the globe, and one country's military", the letter reports.
"I tried to remind myself right that Google's decisions are not my decisions".
Google has defended itself by arguing that the technology the military is using is open-source and thus can be used regardless of the company's actual involvement, and insisted that the technology would not be used for combat operations.
More than 3,000 Google staffers signed a petition in April in protest at the company's focus on warfare.
In addition to the petition circulating inside Google, the Tech Workers Coalition launched a petition in April demanding that Google abandon its work on Maven and that other major tech companies, including IBM and Amazon, refuse to work with the U.S. Defence Department. I'm not personally responsible for everything they do. The letter says Google should "commit to not weaponizing its technology" and terminate its contract with the DoD. When the story first broke, it told Gizmodo: "The technology flags images for human review and is for non-offensive uses only". "Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns".
Fortune contacted Google for comment about these resignations and will update this post if it responds. "I wasn't happy just voicing my concerns internally. But I do feel responsibility when I see something that I should escalate it", another resigning employee told Gizmodo. "The strongest possible statement I could take against this was to leave", the departing team member said.
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