Google is working with the U.S. Department of Defense in order to make the military’s drones artificially intelligent, if not more so, Gizmodo reported Tuesday.
The partnered project, reportedly titled Project Maven, aims to create advanced technology that can pinpoint and determine what particular objects are in drone footage. The private-public initiative was supposed to be for the most part hush, but pertinent information was circulated last week through “an internal mailing list,” according to Gizmodo, which cites anonymous sources.
The sharing among many Google staffers was not out of appreciation or positive intrigue, but indignation. Military drones, after all, are a military tool most often used for ultimately violent endeavors, often with varying degrees of precision. Technology that can better help identify what a drone is viewing or targeting, though, could conceivably make the warfare weapon and its application more meticulous, but many Googlers are reportedly still very worried about the powers of machine learning.
Eric Schmidt, the now-former CEO of Alphabet, the parent company of Google, was appointed chairman of a larger DOD program called the Defense Innovation Board (DIB) in 2016. The Daily Caller News Foundation took a fairly deep dive into why he remained on at the helm even as President Donald Trump’s administration took over, since he was such a staunch supporter of the Democratic Party and critic of the president.
Schmidt has since stepped down as the chief executive of the tech conglomerate. However, he still is an Alphabet board member, and appears to remain involved in the DIB.
“The Defense Innovation Board is focused on supporting the Department of Defense on issues, such as AI, data analytics, software acquisition, and shaping the culture of the DOD workforce. These issues know no partisan boundaries,” Navy Cmdr. Patrick Evans, who does press operations for the Pentagon, told TheDCNF towards the end of 2017. “DOD cares about enhancing lethality, strengthening alliances and partnerships, and reforming the Department. DIB is about advancing the Department and serving the American public, not politics.”
In what seems inevitable for Silicon Valley, especially the highly opinionated workers at Google, the issue of the tech company’s relationship with the Pentagon seems to have become more political than it inherently was, at least internally.
“We have long worked with government agencies to provide technology solutions,” a Google spokeswoman told TheDCNF. “The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only.”
Google realizes that “military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns,” the company representative also said, while noting they’re “actively discussing important topic internally and with others.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk, widely considered a pioneer in the tech industry, especially one with very ambitious goals, has even spoken out against the dire concerns behind artificial intelligence and military utilization. He and 115 other tech leaders collectively sent a letter to the United Nations asking it to ban “killer robots,” formally known as lethal autonomous weapons.
“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter states, according to a press release issued by the Future of Life, an organization with Musk and famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking as two of the several members of the board of advisers. “These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways,” the organization said.
Drones often require human control and thus aren’t completely autonomous, yet an artificially intelligent one would likely still comport with Musk and others’ worries, including many Google employees.
Other executives, like Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s head of search and AI, both indirectly responded to Musk’s concerns, respectively calling his comments against the technology “irresponsible.”
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