Google’s AI is being used by US military drone programme
Google’s artificial intelligence technologies are being used by the US military for one of its drone projects, causing controversy both inside and outside the company.
Google’s TensorFlow AI systems are being used by the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) Project Maven, which was established in July last year to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to analyse the vast amount of footage shot by US drones. The initial intention is to have AI analyse the video, detect objects of interest and flag them for a human analyst to review.
Drew Cukor, chief of the DoD’s Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Function Team, said in July: “People and computers will work symbiotically to increase the ability of weapon systems to detect objects. Eventually we hope that one analyst will be able to do twice as much work, potentially three times as much, as they’re doing now. That’s our goal.”
Project Maven forms part of the $7.4bn spent on AI and data processing by the DoD, and has seen the Pentagon partner with various academics and experts in the field of AI and data processing. It has reportedly already been put into use against Islamic State.
A Google spokesperson said: “This specific project is a pilot with the Department of Defense, to provide open source TensorFlow APIs that can assist in object recognition on unclassified data. The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only.”
While Google has long worked with government agencies providing technology and services, alongside cloud providers such as Amazon and Microsoft, the move to aid Project Maven has reportedly caused much internal debate at the search company. According to people talking to Gizmodo, some Google employees were outraged when they discovered the use of the company’s AI.
“Military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns. We’re actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies,” said Google.
Both former Alphabet executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Google executive Milo Medin are members of the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Pentagon on cloud and data systems.
Google has a mixed history with defence contracts. When it bought robotics firm Shaft, it pulled the company’s systems from a Pentagon competition, while it cut defence-related contracts on buying the satellite startup Skybox. When it owned robotics firm Boston Dynamics, the company was attempting to make a robotic packhorse for ground troops, which was ultimately rejected by the US marines because it was too noisy.
The company’s cloud services division currently does not offer systems designed to hold information classified as secret, where its competitors Amazon and Microsoft do.
When Google bought the UK’s artificial intelligence firm DeepMind in 2014 for £400m, the company set up an AI ethics board, which was tasked with reviewing the company’s use of AI, although details of the board were still not made public three years later.
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