Google Drone Military Involvement Sparks Resignations

John Lister's picture

Around a dozen Google employees have resigned over the company developing artificial intelligence for use with military drones. An internal petition against the work has reportedly been signed by 4,000 employees.

The protest is over Google's involvement in Project Maven, a program the US Department of Defense is developing to make better use of its aerial drones. It is said to collect so much video footage from its drones in war zones and other areas where the US has a military presence that it's not viable to have humans analyze all the material.

The idea of Project Maven is to use computers to look through the video and try to identify specific objects, including people. The initial goal is to put identified objects into 38 categories. The program also aims to track individuals' movements as they appear in footage from different locations.

Computer Makes Own Rules

The references to artificial intelligence and machine learning are because the computers wouldn't simply follow a programmed set of rules for identifying objects such as "something with two arms, two legs and a head is probably a person rather than a goat." Instead, the computers learn from their work and develop their own rules for recognizing and categorizing objects.

Google is one of the leading players in such machine learning. It's previously worked on projects where computers learned how to beat world champions in Go, a board game with so many possible moves that it's impossible to consider all their options. Instead, humans and computers alike need to develop effective rules of thumb to narrow the possibilities and find the ones most likely to be favorable.

Employees Demand More Openness

As things stand, Google's systems used in Project Maven wouldn't involve automating the process of selecting which targets - and in turn which locations - to attack using drones. (Source:

However, the employees who've quit are understood to argue that the company should have no involvement in military operations. They've also suggested Google is too secretive and doesn't have enough trust. They say not only should Google cancel its involvement in Project Maven, but it should also have a publicly stated policy to never "build warfare technology." (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Is Google right to be involved in the project in this way? How closely should it be involved in military operations? Does it make any difference that it's a US-based company working with the US military?

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jimain's picture

I understand Google employee's concern. That problem may be solved by administratively separating the military support projects / contracts from Google's general business.

russoule's picture

jimain, that wouldn't satisfy the lefties that work at google. they would want a complete withdrawal from anything that might be considered "military". After all, there is no other country in the world that wants to defeat us militarily, right? All the world is friendly except the USA. (sarc) Here's the thing, whether it is Google or someone else, if the military wants this to be developed, it will be developed. And all these namby-pamby NiMBYs should remember that even the internet itself was designed as a military information highway BEFORE it was a common-place information highway. Lest we forget, the internet, the space program, computers, jeeps, and a whole lot of other things were all developed for the military in their beginning stages. This type of AI might very well generate public-use capability as well.

beach.boui's picture

(Comment edited by Admin)

[Judging by your comment], the company that we all trust with our email and internet searches, and all the privacy implications that come with those, that Google should be in bed with the U.S. Military. I ... [think this is a very] narrow-minded perspective ... [I would] rather ridicule people of a more enlightened political persuasion than argue an issue based on the merits and details of the issue, itself.

It doesn't matter where the internet started. It matters what it is today. What the ... lefties understand, quite well, is obviously beyond the scope of intellectual understanding of the righties.

Google needs to choose between civilians and military. There needs to be a separation between the two, just as there needs to be a separation between church and state.

James Madison said, "The purpose of separation between church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."

The wisdom in his comment speaks for itself.