Google says it will not renew controversial Pentagon contract


Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Google will not renew a contract to help the US military analyse aerial drone imagery when it expires in March, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday, as the company moves to defuse internal uproar over the deal. It now appears that Google has decided not to renew its contract with the Pentagon.

But the request of private-sector help from companies such as Google, which develops some of the world's most sophisticated image-recognition software and employs some of the top minds in AI, quickly sparked a firestorm over the potential that the technology could be used to help kill or serve as a stepping stone towards AI-coordinated lethal warfare.

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. Those who resigned were anxious about the ethical implications of the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare, but they were also concerned with Google's political motives and the potential for loss of user trust.

Google plans to honour what is left of its contract on Project Maven, the person said.

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Dozens of employees reportedly resigned in protest, and more than 3,000 employees signed a petition demanding the contract be canceled and a clear policy preventing involvement with the military be implemented. The company, however, remained cautious of this contract becoming public anxious about how people would perceive it. Microsoft, Amazon, and IBM are other tech giants competing for similar contracts. While Bloomberg reported that more than 100 companies attended the industry day last October, the Pentagon hasn't publicly identified which companies are working on the project, and many companies in the industry have been closemouthed about whether or not they're even involved with the project. For a tech company that heralded itself as one that values the views and perspectives of its employees, Google has worked to reduce protests without pivoting away from military partnerships.

Google in August 2017 hosted defence executives to demonstrate its artificial intelligence capabilities, according to a document shared with Google employees and seen by Reuters.

Google has not committed to forego signing other military contracts dealing with artificial intelligence.
Audricia Harris, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said it "would not be appropriate for us to comment on the relationship between a prime and sub-prime contractor holder".