Resignations over Google involvement in analysing drone footage classifying images of people

Yesterdays post on Flaw with Foodstuffs facial recognition showed how face recognition is being used in supermarkets to try to identify shop lifters.

On a much different scale, concerns are being raised by Google’s involvement in a US project that is analysing drone footage of people and objects.

Gizmodo: Google Employees Resign in Protest Against Pentagon Contract

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.

Google has already imaged the world, and some of that has been controversial – they now blank out some details like faces and car registration plates, but they still have that information.

Google also has a huge amount of data on people’s searching and browsing habits.

So getting involved in drone imaging and warfare justifiably raises concerns.

In the case of Maven, Google is helping the Defense Department implement machine learning to classify images gathered by drones. But some employees believe humans, not algorithms, should be responsible for this sensitive and potentially lethal work—and that Google shouldn’t be involved in military work at all.

There is no way of knowing how much Google is working with governments and military matters.

In addition to the resignations, nearly 4,000 Google employees have voiced their opposition to Project Maven in an internal petition that asks Google to immediately cancel the contract and institute a policy against taking on future military work.

However, the mounting pressure from employees seems to have done little to sway Google’s decision—the company has defended its work on Maven and is thought to be one of the lead contenders for another major Pentagon cloud computing contract, the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, better known as JEDI, that is currently up for bids.

the resigning employees believe that Google’s work on Maven is fundamentally at odds with the company’s do-gooder principles. “It’s not like Google is this little machine-learning startup that’s trying to find clients in different industries,” a resigning employee said. “It just seems like it makes sense for Google and Google’s reputation to stay out of that.”

Many Google employees first learned the company was working on Maven when word of the controversial project began to spread internally in late February. At the time, a Google spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company was in the process of drafting “policies and safeguards” around its use of machine learning, but that policy document has yet to materialize, sources said.

One employee explained that Google staffers were promised an update on the ethics policy within a few weeks, but that progress appeared to be locked in a holding pattern. The ethical concerns “should have been addressed before we entered this contract,” the employee said.

In addition to the petition circulating inside Google, the Tech Workers Coalition launched a petition in April demanding that Google abandon its work on Maven and that other major tech companies, including IBM and Amazon, refuse to work with the U.S. Defense Department.

“We can no longer ignore our industry’s and our technologies’ harmful biases, large-scale breaches of trust, and lack of ethical safeguards,” the petition reads. “These are life and death stakes.”

More than 90 academics in artificial intelligence, ethics, and computer science released an open letter today that calls on Google to end its work on Project Maven and to support an international treaty prohibiting autonomous weapons systems.

This is a big deal, but most of the people will continue to feed the Google data machine oblivious to what Google is doing with the US military.

Not only is this collaboration a concern, it also poses risks. I presume Google has decent security on it’s data but what if they were hacked or data was handed over to another country?

Leave a comment


  1. Reply
    • Maybe Google has a better hit rate than 2% identifying terrorists.

    • David

       /  15th May 2018

      It will be a racist thing, has Lilly Allen commented yet.

    • David in Aus

       /  15th May 2018

      That is not a surprise if know anything about diagnostic sensitivity and specificity.
      When the number of terrorists is very low any test is not likely to be specific, i.e. identify terrorist accurately. But it may be sensitive, that is, selective people for further investigation.

      Bayesian probability.

      • David in Aus

         /  15th May 2018

        The same Bayesian probability will affect the search for shoplifters; many false positives but recognition of suspicious people for further investigation. The people using technology will need the intelligence to use the tool effectively. It is not DNA level probability.

        • Kitty Catkin

           /  15th May 2018

          As we all probably know people who resemble each other closely enough to be mistaken for each other, this technology would need a close up view, full face, front on, able to be analysed.

  2. NOEL

     /  15th May 2018

    Havent seen a Predator Drone overhead, ever.

  3. David

     /  15th May 2018

    Seems a crazy business decision from Google, people will be much more cautious and less trusting of them and it could buggar their business model. Doesnt fit with their public image at all.

  4. David in Aus

     /  15th May 2018

    I have no problems with shopkeepers using technology to keep out known shoplifters. But Google and Facebook need regulation in NZ. Their reach and scope are becoming scary and they need strict supervision. The capabilities of these ubiquitous firms are greater than foreign intelligence services. The potential for nefarious activities is too great to be ignored.

  5. George

     /  15th May 2018

    Big brother is watching. Who’d have ever guessed

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  15th May 2018

      I suspect that if we were victims of assaults in the street, we might be glad to have the offender/s caught on film.

      I saw an assault in Hamilton, and although some young men came to the rescue, they had to cross the main street so took a couple of minutes to arrive after they’d seen what was going on.In the meantime, a young woman filmed the assault and (justifiably smugly) handed over the camera to the police when THEY arrived. Much more use than my verbal account. What good thinking.

  6. It’s time. Time for Bing to rule. Go Bing, go!

  1. Resignations over Google involvement in analysing drone footage classifying images of people — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: