In a meeting with employees today, Gizmodo reports, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene told employees that the company had no plans to seek a renewal of its contract with the U.S. military. The agreement, which has triggered the resignations of dozens of Google employees, was for a drone-imaging program known as Maven. Google was going to use its considerable AI muscle to develop the program, but employees objected.
According to Gizmodo:
Google would not choose to pursue Maven today because the backlash has been terrible for the company, Greene said, adding that the decision was made at a time when Google was more aggressively pursuing military work. The company plans to unveil new ethical principles about its use of AI next week.
While the contract doesn’t expire until next year, Greene indicated that Google is not “following through” on its current terms, according to BuzzFeed. The walk-back is significant, as Google was reportedly hoping that Maven would lead to more — and more lucrative — contracts with the military and intelligence communities.
Even as they were eyeing their bottom line, however, execs were not blind to how bad it would be to use the terms “Google,” “artificial intelligence,” and “military” in the same sentence. “Weaponized AI is probably one of the most sensitized topics of AI,” Google Cloud chief scientist Fei-Fei Li wrote in one email, as reported by the New York Times.
While many employees who would actually be doing the work for the military have voiced protest, those higher up have waxed philosophical about what Google can do. Co-founder Sergey Brin reportedly sees Google’s military work as a type of global mediation.
And they downplayed how much the contract was really worth. According to Gizmodo, Greene “told concerned employees during meetings that Google’s contract with the Department of Defense was worth only $9 million.” In reality, “internal emails reviewed by Gizmodo show that the initial contract was worth at least $15 million, and that the budget for the project was expected to grow as high as $250 million.”