Google’s pledge to quit doing military work involving its AI technology does not include its current job helping the Pentagon with drone surveillance.
Diane Greene, the head of Google Cloud, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that Google will continue to honour the controversial Project Maven contract that it entered into last year.
“I would like to be unequivocal that Google Cloud honours its contracts,” Greene said in the blog post, adding that Google would fulfil the contract in a way that’s “consistent” with the company’s AI principles.
The comments came shortly after Google CEO Sundar Pichai published a list of governing principles on how the company plans to work with AI technology in the future. Those principles include not building applications that can be used as weapons or cause harm to humans.
The principles follow a conflict inside Google, pitting thousands of employees against management. These workers protested the company’s involvement in Project Maven – the controversial collaboration between Google and the US Department of Defence. In March, news leaked that Google had quietly supplied AI technology to the Pentagon to help analyse drone video footage.
Greene described Maven on Thursday as a “limited contract” that Google entered into in September 2017 that “involved drone video footage and low-res object identification using AI” in which “saving lives was the overarching intent.”
“We will not be pursuing follow on contracts for the Maven project,” Greene said, but noted that the company would see the current contract through.
“While this means that we will not pursue certain types of government contracts,” Greene wrote, “we want to assure our customers and partners that we are still doing everything we can within these guidelines to support our government, the military and our veterans. For example, we will continue to work with government organisations on cybersecurity, productivity tools, healthcare, and other forms of cloud initiatives.”
Greene’s comments underscore the tricky balance facing Google, particularly its cloud business, as it seeks to compete with Amazon, Oracle and Microsoft for lucrative government contracts while seeking to quell concerns among employees who feel that the company has veered from its Don’t Be Evil corporate credo.
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