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Google Employees May Protest Over Project They Think Will Aid Military Drone Strikes

Google Employees May Protest Over Project They Think Will Aid Military Drone Strikes
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Project Maven has been the subject of many Google employees discomfort ever since it was contracted by the Pentagon. The program is meant to give U.S. forces tools utilizing artificial intelligence, but many have expressed concerns that Maven would put the military "just a short step away from authorizing autonomous drones to kill automatically, without human supervision or meaningful human control." Now, plans are being made amongst employees to protest Google's involvement in the project at a San Francisco Google Cloud conference in July.

Gizmodo reports that "over a dozen" Google employees quit their job due to the company's involvement in the program, and that "thousands of employees have signed a letter protesting it."

On Thursday, May 31, discussion began on an internal thread titled "maven conscientious objectors," about the possibility of a live protest at July's conference. Discussion was begun by a departing engineer, who wrote:

[Maven is] the greatest ethical crises in technology of our generation...

Though Friday, June 1, was the employees last day, Google HR contacted him in the late morning and asked that he "leave immediately" due to "recent statements." HR wrote to the employee:

As such, we're going to move up your exit by a few hours and we've ended access, effective immediately.

The entire incident was polarizing within Google, even among the Maven conscientious objectors, some of whom believed the engineer had went too far by suggesting a live protest, and others who thought he was well within his rights.

Maven has attracted other acts of defiance in the past, including a petition from Google employees addressed to Google CEO Sundar Pichai in April. The petition, signed by thousands, claims:

This contract puts Google's reputation at risk and stands in direct opposition to our core values. Building this technology to assist the US Government in military surveillance ― and potentially lethal outcomes ― is not acceptable.

Though the employee who began talk of a live protest may no longer work at the company, it seems his presence is still felt: later on Friday, June 1, Google announced it would not be renewing its contract with the military to continue Maven past 2019. Though the tech giant left the door open to collaborating on other projects, it seems Google employees' protests may have made the difference!

H/T - Huffpost, Getty Images