Google won't renew drone AI contract with Pentagon

Tech giant Google will not seek to renew its contract with the U.S. Department of Defense for a drone project that has sparked criticism among employees.

Some Google employees, whose skills are in high demand, had organised resistance campaigns or threatened to leave. The project involved analyzing drone footage using artificial intelligence with the ultimate goal of automatically classifying images of objects and people.

Google, for its part, says it now intends to release a detailed set of ethical guidelines for developing artificial intelligence.

Google has defended the project by downplaying the company's involvement, arguing that the company contributes in a minor role, "merely providing the Defense Department with open-source software", Gizmodo reports. Google will continue work on the project through March 2019, according to multiple people with knowledge of the announcement, but once the 18-month contract concludes, it will not be renewed. More than 4,600 employees signed a petition calling for Google to cancel the deal, with at least 13 employees resigning in recent weeks in protest at Google's involvement, according to a second person familiar with the deal.

Furious staff members have flooded message boards, attended fractious meetings, created anti-Maven stickers, and resigned in protest. "Google should not be in the business of war", Meredith Whittaker, a research scientist affiliated with Google and New York University, wrote on Twitter. Google's artificial intelligence would bring "an exquisite capability" for "near-real time analysis", the email said. Project Maven was Google's first major contract with Pentagon after which the company was eyeing for bigger contracts with intelligence agencies.

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Greene told Googlers the backlash against the firm's involvement in the project had been bad for the company, Gizmodo reported.

Maven had an initial budget of $70 million (£52.4 million).

But with military interest and investment in AI continuing to rise- "The Department of Defense should not buy another weapons system without AI", Shanahan said at the Nvidia conference last year-the relationship between the Pentagon and the tech companies and workers most accomplished in the field will likely remain controversial.

DigitalGlobe, a geospatial data provider that's been reported to provide data to the project, didn't reply to a request for comment.

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