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Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract (gizmodo.com) 469

Kate Conger, reporting for Gizmodo: It's been nearly three months since many Google employees -- and the public -- learned about the company's decision to provide artificial intelligence to a controversial military pilot program known as Project Maven, which aims to speed up analysis of drone footage by automatically classifying images of objects and people. Now, about a dozen Google employees are resigning in protest over the company's continued involvement in Maven.

The resigning employees' frustrations range from particular ethical concerns over the use of artificial intelligence in drone warfare to broader worries about Google's political decisions -- and the erosion of user trust that could result from these actions. Many of them have written accounts of their decisions to leave the company, and their stories have been gathered and shared in an internal document, the contents of which multiple sources have described to Gizmodo.

Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract

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  • Of course (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck ( 811747 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @11:59AM (#56608778)

    They were all in when it was a creepy private data mining operation, but do something to support the legitimate aims of government and defend the nation, and it goes against their precious principles.

        We are creating a generation of sociopaths, who have inverted their priorities and have no notion of right or wrong.

    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by stephanruby ( 542433 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:12PM (#56608862)

      We are creating a generation of sociopaths, who have inverted their priorities and have no notion of right or wrong.

      We're talking about AI being used to control drones.

      It's a slippery slope. At a certain point, those drones won't need any humans remote controlling them.

      And those drones definitely won't "have any notion of right and wrong".

      • Re:Of course (Score:5, Informative)

        by WoodstockJeff ( 568111 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:35PM (#56609062) Homepage

        > We're talking about AI being used to control drones.

        No, we're talking about AI being used for analysis of the data provided by those drones. To weed through the thousands of hours of pictures to make it easier for humans to make decisions. At least, that was the original story that caused these people to promise to resign if it happened.

        It's stuff these people were already developing AI to do - just a different user base. Rather than delivery targeted advertising, it might be something else targeting them.

        • by lhowaf ( 3348065 )
          Thanks. Wish I had mod points. I didn't see any mention of controlling drones with AI. Apparently, these offended folks are ok with drones releasing weapons without proper analysis of the images - possibly endangering innocents.
    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:21PM (#56608946) Journal
      "Legitimate aims of government" indeed.

      Thye don't want their work being used for weapons systems, that's not what they signed up for, and their moral compass dictates that leaving is the right move. Are you actually claiming that they should be punished for not living according to their own conscience, that their employer or the government should have the right to force them to do work that goes against their own conscience? If so then how un-American of you.

      ..oh, and never mind the fact that these so-called 'AIs' (which are pseudo-intelligent at best, not real Artificial Intelligence) will inevitably make mistakes, which will lead to non-combatants being targeted and killed. That's at the core of why these people are 'quitting in protest', and that's why people make a moral choice to not work on weapons of war.
      • which are pseudo-intelligent at best, not real Artificial Intelligence

        Pseudo, fake, artificial. That's what artificial means.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's what artificial means.

          "artificial - made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, typically as a copy of something natural."

          All the AI produced so far is at best in the pseudo category precisely because it can't actually mimic natural behavior, reactions, etc. Advanced pattern matching that works really well so long as you're selective on your inputs? Yes. Start throwing in really unrelated input and get horribly obvious false positives? Yes. Humans have the ability to recogn

      • Being used for weapons system to help innocent people (correctly identifying and categorizing people leads to fewer civilian deaths).

        What they were doing was taking part in a massive effort to mine and actively HARM innocent people through data collection. Indeed what they were supporting before was vastly more harmful to more people than any weapon system.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          Indeed what they were supporting before was vastly more harmful to more people than any weapon system.

          I'd strongly dispute that. While I am a strong advocate for privacy rights, having Google scrape your personal data doens't make you bleed out or lose limbs. I find your argument to be invalid.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vux984 ( 928602 )

      "We are creating a generation of sociopaths, who have inverted their priorities and have no notion of right or wrong."

      People ostensibly working for a civilian advertising company; don't want to contribute directly to the development of autonomous military drone killing machines. And you call them 'sociopaths' who have no notion of right or wrong?

    • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:04PM (#56609254)

      We are creating a generation of sociopaths, who have inverted their priorities and have no notion of right or wrong.

      Well... do you think Presidents, Senators and House Representatives grow on trees?

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by fredrated ( 639554 )

      The legitimate aims of government? Defend the nation? Open your eyes, this nation hasn't been defended in over 70 years. Instead we go all over the world, using war to promote our commercial and political interests and in general slaughtering people in their own countries. People that are of no conceivable threat to America or Americans. Now we want to slaughter these people more efficiently and quickly, and you call it 'defend[ing] our nation'! How sad. Wake up and smell the blood.

    • is where I see this going. If you can Id good targets from pictures offline then it won't be long until you can do it in realtime. There's a world of difference between using AI to sell me McDonald's Cheeseburgers & BMWs and using it to kill people.

      What's scary is you're having trouble with the difference (and if you are, so are other people). Even ignoring the fact that our drone program is anything but legitimate it ought to be obvious why someone who makes advertisements for a living wouldn't wa
    • They were all in when it was a creepy private data mining operation

      Have you considered the idea that perhaps Google employees are actually reasonable and privacy-conscious people, and that they're okay with what Google does because they see in detail exactly how it works and find it pretty harmless and a reasonable trade for the value of the services provided? You're making worst-case sort of guesses (which is reasonable) and assuming that what you're guessing is the same as the reality that Google employees see.

      FWIW, I'm a Google employee who is a long-time crypto secur

  • by Virtucon ( 127420 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @11:59AM (#56608786)

    Now they'll be a defense contractor like Boeing et al. While I can understand a company wanting to make money how does this line up with "Do no harm?"

    • While I can understand [Google] wanting to make money how does this line up with "Do no harm?"

      "First, do no harm," is the physicians's motto (part of the Hippocratic Oath, or Hypocritic Oath for those who understand the irony). Google's motto is, "Don't be evil."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd have a hard time employing folks who "publicly" resigned in protest. My reason is that they'd similarly judge my company, and bring the wrong type of attention to my company. EVERYONE asks, "so, why'd you quit?"

    That said, this type of move shows passion and putting their money where their mouth is. I really admire their conviction. Good for them.

    I personally think Google has lost their moral compass. Stuff I've read about SREs doing, in flagging "bad" people who visit, would be grounds for immediate dis

  • Is resignation (where you will be replaced) the solution, or is slowing the project down with barely passable code while leaking details to the press a better solution? Read about what Wernher Heisenberg (the real one, not the one from Breaking Bad) may have done with the German atom bomb program.
  • by IGnatius T Foobar ( 4328 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:07PM (#56608830) Homepage Journal
    At this time we may begin to wonder whether we have passed Peak Google. Now that the company is large enough to get itself tangled up in politics, people from all political persuasions are watching its every move and looking for things to get upset about. The privacy issue could also be Google's biggest systemic problem, raising distrust in the company similar to IBM and Microsoft before it. We know how this ends -- a long, slow decline.

    Personally, I'm very happy with DuckDuckGo. In just a few years it went from completely-unusable to a perfectly fine Google alternative. And I certainly wouldn't trust my email to any server other than my own.
  • by Slicker ( 102588 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:10PM (#56608848)

    While there are many classically liberal views I agree with, sometimes I think they just go too far. National defense is a critical industry for the survival of the country and, although the United States is not perfect and certain has its share of blame for tragedies in the world, global dominance by Russia or China would be far, far worse..

    In national defense, we've been falling backward (in relation to Russia and China) for the last few decades. Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

    Also, the cost of war is very prohibitive for us as Congress requires subcontractors in virtually every state to fund any new project. Both potential enemies can easily outlast us in a protracted war, financially.

    And of course there is that AI in combat is not only inevitable but moving ahead at a very fast pace in both China and Russia. Although U.S. services still require a human in the loop of any kill decision, Russia absolutely does not. They are allowing agent kill decisions by default. This isn't a should we are shouldn't be ethical issue. This is about survival.

    • In national defense, we've been falling backward (in relation to Russia and China) for the last few decades. Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

      Also, the cost of war is very prohibitive for us as Congress requires subcontractors in virtually every state to fund any new project. Both potential enemies can easily outlast us in a protracted war, financially.

      The answer to this is to de-privatize defense. It's obviously just a money sinkhole and spending more won't fix it. Our own military has enough people with advanced degrees that actual military members can create next-generation technology. The only contractors needed might be for construction labor - but those can be employees, not giant firms. That would also help avoid creating another huge bureaucracy.

      • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:27PM (#56609436)

        Our own military has enough people with advanced degrees that actual military members can create next-generation technology.

        Nope.

        One of the requirements of military service is "up or out". You either need to earn a promotion and move to a different station, or you're "asked" to retire. And you don't get promoted in-place, you get a new assignment with a higher rank.

        Those officers with advanced degrees do not get to work on the same program for 10 years...and usually not even 5 years. It's also not uncommon for officers to "temporarily" deploy in support of one of our many lovely wars. This constant churn of the development team would ensure that the new technology can't be developed.

    • by dj245 ( 732906 )

      While there are many classically liberal views I agree with, sometimes I think they just go too far. National defense is a critical industry for the survival of the country and, although the United States is not perfect and certain has its share of blame for tragedies in the world, global dominance by Russia or China would be far, far worse..

      In national defense, we've been falling backward (in relation to Russia and China) for the last few decades. Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

      Also, the cost of war is very prohibitive for us as Congress requires subcontractors in virtually every state to fund any new project. Both potential enemies can easily outlast us in a protracted war, financially.

      And of course there is that AI in combat is not only inevitable but moving ahead at a very fast pace in both China and Russia. Although U.S. services still require a human in the loop of any kill decision, Russia absolutely does not. They are allowing agent kill decisions by default. This isn't a should we are shouldn't be ethical issue. This is about survival.

      Not saying you're wrong on all points, but are tanks on a battlefield strategically important anymore? It seems like they are going more and more the way of the battleship - an expensive asset that is difficult to justify based on how war has evolved.

      The power struggles in the world now are mainly economic and the use of strategic influence in parts of the world that have a net-positive return. This includes propaganda activities both on the ground and online. There are certainly proxy wars where weapo

    • by djinn6 ( 1868030 )

      Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

      Too bad none of that actually matters if it really was a defensive war. We have more than enough nuclear weapons to flatten any invading army, their military bases, sea ports, airports and factories, as well as that of their allies and trading partners, several times over.

    • In national defense, we've been falling backward (in relation to Russia and China) for the last few decades. Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

      You really shouldn't believe everything you hear. Assuming Iran really did capture a US drone, what possible sense would it make to announce it? That's all propaganda. Or they are idiots beyond belief. If they really did capture the drone, announcing it would just make the US fix whatever problem they exploited so it can't be exploited again. I'd think if Iran really got the drone they would keep that highly classified so they could use it to get more drones in the future or exploit this captured kno

    • by Uberbah ( 647458 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @04:36PM (#56610786)

      The United States could dismiss the entire Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force tomorrow and have more than enough for it's actual defense needs. You even seen a globe, bro? The United States is surrounded by the world's largest oceans and two friendly allies. You've faced one invasion in your entire history, 200 years ago, and for a war you started.

      In national defense, we've been falling backward (in relation to Russia and China) for the last few decades. Our main battle tanks are two generations behind Russia's and their air defense systems are also greatly enhanced. Iran successfully took over one of our most sophisticated drones and captured in, a couple years ago, using electronic warfare... Although we have the F-22 and the F-35 jets, we are falling in most other areas and are even behind in some.

      Russia's entire defense budget is $45 billion dollars. You spend over [motherjones.com] a trillion. The United States doesn't need to defend itself from the rest of the world. The rest of the world needs to defend itself from the United States.

      It's not Russia occupying Europe with 30 installations in Germany alone. It's not China starting wars for bullshit reasons and assassinating people on the other side of the planet from it. It's all you. It's only you, and your terrorist allies Saudi Arabia and Israel.

  • by Lucas123 ( 935744 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:25PM (#56608978) Homepage
    I remember when Google launched and the company touted its motto "Don't be evil". I guess the employees believe assisting the military in its drone program is a form of evil; And, while some may complain that a dozen people quitting doesn't amount to a hill of beans, I give those employees one heck of a lot of credit for standing up for what they believe in in a way most of us will never know.
  • I don't blame them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:27PM (#56609000) Journal
    Allow me to explain this to those of you who don't get it: These people are 'quitting in protest' because they didn't sign up to work on weapons of war, and they have every right to quit over this because otherwise they're not living according to their own conscience. Having worked in the defense industry (by the way, what we worked on was training systems, not weapons systems; what we developed helped keep soldiers safe) it's far from the first time someone has made a decision like this, and in fact people who have objections to contributing to the development of deadly weapons of war very often make this clear when they're interviewing for a job. These people clearly did not forsee this and are now acting accordingly and do not deserve to be criticized for that.

    ..oh, and by the way: It's inevitable that the so-called 'AI' (inaptly named; is really not much more than 'pseudo-intelligence' at best) will make mistakes, and those mistakes will likely mean non-combatants becoming collateral damage. That's at the core of why they're quitting, and I for one don't blame them one bit.
    • ..oh, and by the way: It's inevitable that the so-called 'AI' (inaptly named; is really not much more than 'pseudo-intelligence' at best) will make mistakes, and those mistakes will likely mean non-combatants becoming collateral damage

      And that never happens with humans looking at the videos because..........?

      And keep in mind, the humans are 18-25ish, have minimal training, and have to plow through many hours of recordings all day, every day. An "AI" reducing their workload by identifying what's "interesting" would probably reduce collateral damage.

      • Humans have to correct so-called 'AI' mistakes all the time. Remember that the so-called 'AI' we have now isn't much different from what we had in the late 90's.
        At least with a human making a mistake, there's someone to hold responsible, and someone to have a real conversation with. The real danger from the so-called 'AI' everyone is so hot about lately is that they'll be fooled into trusting it too much because 'it's a machine and machines don't make mistakes' -- until they make a big fat glaring mistake,
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      because they didn't sign up to work on weapons of war

      Were they working on the AI project that contracted to do Pentagon work? Or just some unrelated department at Google? If it's the former, most DoD contractors are more then happy to move you to some unrelated work. The last thing they want is a disgruntled employee that feels trapped (need the income, don't like the work) and might cause trouble. If it's just a protest over Google's involvement in general, there isn't much you can do in this country that isn't six degrees away from Kevin Bacon or the Pentag

  • Seriously, can I be hired in place of one of those who left, probably the best job of their lives ? Over what ? A moronic principle. There is no company who can say they will not work with/for the government and/or military. Otherwise how will the government will spend the money, supposedly paid to $725 for single hammer or $2200 worth of toilet seats ? C'mon people. Be reasonable. Really,. if someone from google is looking for a replacement for one of their childish employees who left, I am here to replace
  • Thousands of employees resigned from their employer because of policies they don't agree with.

    No news at 11 because this is just another day.

  • by Karmashock ( 2415832 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @12:46PM (#56609126)

    1. AI and expert systems are going to be a standard in war regardless of what google does or doesn't do.

    2. The US government is hardly the only power trying to integrate this tech into its military.

    3. For all the largely LARPy ire at US foreign policy, what is the alternative hegemonic power you would prefer from the available contenders? Currently - Russia, China, maybe one of the Islamic countries or a coalition there of Pakistan/Turkey/Iran/etc. Of those which would you prefer to be the hegemonic power? Because Switzerland isn't a contender, sweethearts.

    Given the above reality... What does protest quitting Google do?

    Its meaningless virtue signaling. It accomplishes nothing productive. And even if it did slow or shut down the US development of AI enhanced weapons, that would only give one of the other major powers an advantage. And since literally every single one of those powers is if anything more questionable in its ethics regarding war... What are you really doing here?

    I get it. We don't live in an ideal world. This world has war. We kill each other on occasion. But that isn't going to stop. Idealism is a sad substitute for sound foreign policy.

    As the line goes "if you desire peace, prepare for war."

    I desire peace. And I know that if I were sent into the fires of a war, I would want the best weapons my country could supply for me. I cannot therefore in good conscience frustrate the development or deployment of any equipment or programs for our people that I would want for myself in the same situation. I want to live. I want to live in peace and security. And the only way that is going to happen on this planet short of submitting to enslavement... is to be formidable.

    By all means, refuse to work on Google's AI project. It is a free country. No one will force you to work where you do not wish to work. But it is meaningless.

    The tech will get developed and become standard. Everyone knows this. Opposing it is futile.

  • . . . since Google itself has actually acted in a moral fashion as regards refusing to give up the store to China, which Narus, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple have soooo willingly done so, ensuring the deaths and forced organ harvesting of too many Chinese individuals deemed to be enemies of the state due to their not following the CCP doctrine.
  • by foxalopex ( 522681 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @01:34PM (#56609482)

    It's interesting that this is actually standard practice when it comes to intelligence or military applications. You're told when you sign up for any intelligence position is that if you have a moral issue, you first take it up with your superior, if that isn't satisfactory then you resign. It's also a difficult call too, imagine how many scientists felt during the development of the nuclear bomb.

  • According to the article, only a dozen or so employees have resigned out a workforce of around 75,000+ employees. It's not that the employees' action isn't significant, but it's such a small number in the grand scheme of things, unless they are key managers or technical leads, it's hard to really say it will have much, if any, impact in the long run.
  • by ebyrob ( 165903 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @04:56PM (#56610908)

    Maybe it would be a good idea to let Google help process the footage to see who and what got blown up?

    Seriously though, the data is already there, now suddenly it's a big moral dilemma to process it and understand what's going on?

  • by gweihir ( 88907 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @05:51PM (#56611174)

    Used to keep people friendly until they were large enough to show their true colors. Corporations lie and they lie about important stuff. So this is not really a surprise at all.

  • by Alok ( 37687 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @08:49PM (#56611992)
    The linked article says Google is basically a contractor helping with configuration & setup of open source tools; and even if they backed out the same project could be done by other companies too.

    If this is true, then I find it hard to be so upset at them. Agreed, Google's level of expertise in setting up ML systems is far more advanced than most smaller companies, and probably a bit ahead of even their biggest competitors. However, its basically an installation that would happen with or without them; and more likely to be misconfigured if someone else is the military vendor ... which won't just lead to an ineffective system, it will only mean more overspending until the military does have the capabilities it wants.

    So, why not let the ML experts create a usable system which will only save some time and money over them turning down the wad of military cash and seeing someone else get it? Of course, I'm assuming that the claim of everything used being existing open source is actually true.
  • by duke_cheetah2003 ( 862933 ) on Monday May 14, 2018 @10:59PM (#56612608) Homepage

    At the end of the day, all these people gave up is their jobs with Google. They're not going to stop the ball rolling with this act. There's plenty of people with less-than-perfect moral compass that'll fill those shoes.

    Commendable, but I think it'd been much braver to keep your job and fight against this from the inside. Quitting is just quitting.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court

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