Some Google employees, whose skills are in high demand, had organised resistance campaigns or threatened to leave. It now appears that Google has decided not to renew its contract with the Pentagon.
Diane Greene, head of Google Cloud, told employees during a Friday meeting that the company will let its current contract with the Defense Department lapse in 2019, and that it will not pursue a new one, according to the New York Times and Gizmodo.
The EFF and others stressed the need for moral and ethical frameworks regarding the use of artificial intelligence in weaponry.
The New York Times reports that Google's (GOOG, GOOGL) participation in the Pentagon-backed Maven program has "touched off an existential crisis" within the company. A Google spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
About 4,000 Google staff members signed a letter to CEO Sundar Pichai urging the company to end the contract with the Department of Defense, while about a dozen employees resigned in protest, according to Gizmodo.
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Mr. Singer also said he thought Google employees who denounced Maven were somewhat naïve, because Google's search engine and the video platform of its YouTube division have been used for years by warriors of many countries, as well as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. According to Gizmodo: "Google meant to build a "Google Earth-like" surveillance system that would allow Pentagon analysts to "click on a building and see everything associated with it" and build graphs of objects like vehicles, people, land features, and large crowds for 'the entire city'".
The collaboration with the US Department of Defense was said to have sparked rebellion inside the California-based company. Google's contract accounted for only a small part of Project Maven's technical ambitions, and other companies work on similar image-recognition software that could potentially be deployed as an alternative.
The source said Google does plan to outline its views on the ethics of its artificial intelligence work at some point in the near future.
Google was anxious it could get negative press because of Maven, and that the company's involvement with the project would taint its reputation, the leaked emails suggest.
If tech workers, especially in the competitive AI arena, continue to agitate for their employers to avoid ties with the military, that could mean changes for an industry that's long enjoyed a healthy relationship with the Pentagon.