back to article Boffins urge Google to drop military deal after Googlers storm out over AI-based super-drones

Hundreds of academics across the world have signed an open letter urging Google to stop working with the US Department of Defense in analysing drone footage using its AI technology for Project Maven. The open letter, which has nearly reached 300 signatures at the time of writing, was started by the International Committee for …

  1. ratfox

    But... Money...

    1. Aedazan

      Put your money where your mouth is.

      I guess the employees who resigned put their money where their mouth is.

  2. cantankerous swineherd

    looks like my next phone will be an apple one.

    1. Warm Braw

      looks like my next phone will be an apple one

      And your next arse an iCrac?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      No problem, as a Department of Defense employee you'll have access to Apple's discounted pricing:

  3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    He Google, don't be evil

    A bit late for that but actions can speak louder than words.

    Over to you Google...

    1. macjules

      Re: He Google, don't be evil

      This is terrible. In protest I am going to stop using Google+ and use Facebook instead.

      Oh wait ...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The choices

    War will be fought, like they have since before written history started. Thinking otherwise is simply naive. The question remains the same as the dawn of history: how much collateral damage will you stomach? Just think about the implications a bit...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: how much collateral damage will you stomach?

      And don't forget ... the "collateral damage" might just turn out to be you.

      1. Charles 9

        Re: how much collateral damage will you stomach?

        And there are people willing to ACCEPT that. Some are so extreme they would rather everyone lose than someone other than they win.

      2. mutin

        Re: how much collateral damage will you stomach?

        So what? Stop using cars which kill much more often?

    2. mutin

      Re: The choices

      I agree. As Dr. Freud once and a while ago mentioned, the basic human instinct is "aggression". However, my ten cents to psychology - the basic instinct is "ignorance" and its child is "aggression". We ignore almost everything and will be aggressive until the end of this civilization. Arms' race will never stop until humanoids exist on this planet. So, activists against the war and warfare may need to wait until next civilizations comes in ... After all, there are still 1.5 billions of commies on this planet (as the result of ignorance) and such states as Russia and China will use AI in any form to get warfare advantage. Open your eyes and see imperfect world you live in.

      1. gypsythief

        Re: The choices

        "After all, there are still 1.5 billions of capitalists on this planet (as the result of ignorance) and such states as America and the EU will use AI in any form to get warfare advantage. Open your eyes and see imperfect world you live in.

        I would write FTFY, but I doubt it's fixed even yet; we're all as bad as each other, and, as the saying goes, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

        They're at it, we're at it. I keep hoping for a Star Trek style world, where nobody feels the need to shoot / bomb the living hell out of anyone else just 'cos the grass in greener on the other side, but I fear I hope in vain...

        (...and besides, my neighbour has a new car that I wanna drive...)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The choices

      We're almost at 8 Billion humans walking around causing havoc so we can afford to lose quite a few...

      The planet will thank you.

  5. }{amis}{

    Moral Black Hole

    Google has long paid no attention to any kind of morals frankly I can think of arms companies that are better behaved.

    Google bearly notice when half the governments in the world say you shouldn't be doing this do something, does anyone really think they are going to ignore the Pork-Barrel because people start whinging?

  6. Tigra 07

    RIP "Don't be evil"

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weasel Words

    "A spokesperson told us before that it is using “open source TensorFlow APIs that can assist in object recognition on unclassified data” in drone footage to aid the military."


    We will not identify "targets" as that would be morally wrong. So what we will do is identify everything that are not targets. See how nice and fluffy we are. Now where's that barrel? I've some pork to stuff in it.

  8. trashsilo

    Such respected conscientious objectors must always be heard, even if tech always rolls on à la Oppenheimer.

    "When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success." J. R. Oppenheimer.

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      In fairness to Oppie

      ...his thoughts on the Bomb seem to have been fairly nuanced. I think what drove him was fear the Nazis would first acquire the Bomb and achieve world domination. Given prewar German progress in fission and quantum mechanics, combined with what Heisenberg briefed Bohr about Germany's atomic bomb during the war - info which got back to the Manhattan Project - you can forgive Oppenheimer from being a bit terrified. Once we had VE, no bomb (yet) but still a war in the Pacific, things got tougher for Oppenheimer to noodle through. Naturally the McCarthyites destroyed the man and his reputation post-war.

      Now for an absolute whore to developing weapons technology and damn the moral consequences, I give you: Edward Teller.

      Teller of course played a significant role in crushing Oppenheimer as well... Oppenheimer opposed developing fusion weapons and became a proponent for international control of nuclear arms.

      Icon because, well, the little silver bombs!

      1. trashsilo
        Thumb Up

        Re: In fairness

        The sex-robot needs only be simple and magnifico.

        Given monogamy is out in the 'mineshaft gap' scenario, maybe some very rude-mentary recognition might be in order.

        Mr Chairman, we must not allow a 'affordable sex-robot shaft' gap!

        1. Chairman of the Bored

          Re: In fairness

          Sex robot gap? Sound titillating. I can't keep up, I'm still working on plastic disposable handguns.

  9. RyokuMas

    Well, all that money for lobbying and paying people to pick holes in competitor's products has to come from somewhere...

  10. Nimby

    Glass Half Full

    Oh, sure, we could fear Big Brother and Skynet walking hand-in-hand down Google Way with Cylons replacing key government until one day we find the human race is just a bunch of batteries in the matrix. Yeah. Sure. That could happen...

    But I prefer to look on the brighter side: Number 5 is alive! Surely worth the risk. Right, Johnny?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Glass Half Full

      Ever thought that what you think is a joke really isn't?

      1. Nimby

        Re: Glass Half Full

        "Ever thought that what you think is a joke really isn't?"

        Would I have been so entertainingly detailed if I hadn't? Often times the biggest joke is the one on us! If we cannot laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Glass Half Full

          No one. People will KILL over a laugh. No joke.

  11. Wobbly World

    Will mans inhumanity ever change

    "War is Not Healthy for Children and Other Living Things"

    This pithy poster, originally done by Lorraine Schneider, first appeared in 1966 in reaction to the Vietnam War. Its timeless message is as potent now as it was then.

    Machines learn what we teach them. If you don't want AI robots to shoot you, don't give them guns!!??

    The one thing AI that may save us from ourselves, an AI "Babelfish" providing we listen of course!!

    Just don’t forget your towel.!!

  12. Mike 16

    Oppenheimer, Teller, Page

    "Once the Rockets go up, who cares where they come down. That's not my department say Werner Von Braun"

    And of course Ike warned about the Military Industrial Complex almost sixty years ago. Not that it was new then. It's a tough call, whether you prefer:

    A) The part where very effective (but expensive) weapons are developed and manufactured to defend Freedom and Democracy, only to end up winning territory for drug lords and religious fanatics,


    B) The part where huge dollops of the defense budget go to tech that will never deliver on its alleged performance, if it works at all, but which leaves a hole where the budget for arming and armoring troops actually in combat would be.

    Either way, Freedom and Democracy are at best a tertiary concern. Senator Pork and CEO Barrel are doing fine, thank you.

    1. Chairman of the Bored

      Re: Oppenheimer, Teller, Page

      Von Braun... Well, my question to him would be something like, "well, if the missiles target is not your department, then what about the thousands to tens of thousands of Jewish slaves which died in your factory"

      My country has had a lot of moral triumphs and a lot of moral failures. But Operation Paperclip... Where we brought these Nazis over and turned a blind eye to any and all crimes so they could work in our great new defense-industrial complex... Is inexcusable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oppenheimer, Teller, Page

        Was it...or would you rather that the Soviets had won World War III? Remember that the first thing to go in a war is often scruples. Scruples won't help you to survive until tomorrow.

        1. Chairman of the Bored

          Re: Oppenheimer, Teller, Page

          @AC, quite true... Just wonder if there was a way we could have done proper rocketry without the Nazis. Unfortunately the US Army's projects were something other than fully successful.

          Worn the green suit and definitely lost some scruples or two myself, but looking at the mess we left behind ... Every day I've got to ask if it was worth it.

  13. Tigra 07

    "OK Google, bomb Syria"

    "Did you say: From Bolivia? Ordering an Uber from Bolivia"

  14. F111F

    Did These Academics Use the Internet to Protest?

    ‘Cause, you know, it was a military project...

  15. Claptrap314 Silver badge

    Meanwhile, in China....

    The willful ignorance of these pompous preeners is preposterous. China is conducting a full-on arms races in every area of technology and a cold war from the South China Sea to buying control of the Panama Canal Zone to pushing pure propaganda through "cultural centers" in college campuses.

    Military applications of AI is not a "mineshaft gap", it is an area of research that we know they are investing in heavily. Until China is being called out by these useful idiots to at least as great an extent as the US, I'm assuming that the entire thing is just another Chinese intelligence operation.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Companies most likely to build Skynet

    1) Google

    2) Microsoft

    3) Facebook

    4) Boston Dynamics

    5) IBM (down from #1 a decade ago)

    6) Uber (they want to, but they'd have to steal the code first)

    1. Nimby

      Re: Companies most likely to build Skynet

      Methinks you can drop MS down a few notches and add the caveat (they wanted to, but could not break into the market.)

  17. Chairman of the Bored

    I'm not so worried about the drones...

    ...what I'm a lot more concerned about is AI that has Google's total access to everyone's online life and will be trained to sniff out thoughtcrime. I can easily see myself and loved ones getting arrested not for what we write, but what some AI believes we are thinking. Guess I will see you in the place where there is no darkness...

    1. fajensen

      Re: I'm not so worried about the drones...

      ... loved ones getting arrested not for what we write, but what some AI believes we are thinking ...

      Arresting? That would be getting off easy!

      "We" are right now droning hundreds of people annually based on some religious belief that AI's can find terrorists based on very, very few samples of actual terrorists. Totally as would be expected the failure rate measured in "terrorist vs. collateral damage" is about the same as was achieved with the bombing of Dresden!

      This special brand of lunacy is only rarely questioned or criticised by any serious media or politician!

      Ignoring the morals, it should be concerning enough that every "population management technique" that is now being tried out on the "coloured people" in "the colonies" will eventually come back here and be used on us for the same purposes!

      Indefinite Detention, Secret Courts, Secret Laws, Mass Surveillance, Militarised Police shooting anyone that looks wrong to them with impunity -> Development is Done, and now Already here. Torture could be next. Because - Why Not?

      1. Chairman of the Bored

        Re: I'm not so worried about the drones...

        On the other hand one could argue that the drones result in less immediate collateral damage that old-school air dropped gravity bombs or even laser-guided bombs, which tend to be pretty sizable in terms of mass.

        BUT my word "immediate" is chosen deliberately. Id like to see a cost-benefit analysis on how many terrorists we create through drone strikes versus how many are sent to the grave. Putting myself in the others' shoes: if someone were to whack one of my family members from the air... sure, I would go retro. I value human life but I grade on a curve, and any of the foreign bastards invading my homeland becomes a valid target in such a scenario.

        Outside the combat zone, how do you place a value on reputational loss to your nation or western civilization as a whole? For years now we've forgotten there are other measures of national power than the mailed fist. You cannot kill your way out of every problem.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple choice

    The employees have a very simple choice - if you disapprove of what your employer is doing, then you can find another job. Just don't whinge about it.

    1. Charles 9

      Re: Simple choice

      Trouble is, what if there is no other job? Or rather, ALL ships are sinking? I believe they call it, "Beggars can't be choosers."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Simple choice

        I had thought that these were the best in the industry, so other companies would be interested. Also, if ALL the workers left, then the company would stop - this is collective action and what unions used to be able to do.

        Perhaps the Googlers should think laterally and organise to take action, such as strikes or refusing to work on particular projects. There are many courses of action apart from resigning en masse.

        If you aren't willing to organise to take action but continue to complain it makes you a whinger, and in the case here, a grandstanding whinger.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Simple choice

          "Also, if ALL the workers left, then the company would stop - this is collective action and what unions used to be able to do."

          Until the employers learned how to employ strikebreakers. They've also gotten better at union busting.

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