Google employees have spent the past few months pushing back against their company’s involvement in Project Maven, a US Department of Defense initiative to enhance image processing of drone footage using artificial intelligence. As Gizmodo first reported, Google is contracted with the DoD to provide artificial intelligence for Project Maven—a decision that many employees opposed because they did not think it was appropriate for Google to develop battlefield technology.
Now, the backlash against Pentagon contracts is spreading throughout the tech industry. America's Department of Defense is currently seeking bids for its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, which will provide cloud services to the DoD. Major cloud providers like Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, and Google are all expected to bid on the contract.
But employees at those companies say they don’t want to provide technology for war, and they’ve launched a petition to put pressure on Google to drop its work on Project Maven, and for major tech companies to agree to not take Pentagon contracts.
“We believe that tech companies should not be in the business of war, and that we as tech workers must adopt binding ethical standards for the use of AI that will let us build the world we believe in. Google should break its contract with the Department of Defense (DoD),” the Tech Workers Coalition petition reads. It adds: “DoD contracts between Google, Microsoft, IBM and Amazon break user trust and signal a dangerous alliance. Tech companies that have vast quantities of sensitive data from users across the globe shouldn’t build offensive technology for one country’s military.”
The petition, which is also being supported by Coworker.org, an organising platform for workers, also asks for industry-wide ethical standards for the use of artificial intelligence.
“In signing this petition, we represent a growing network of tech workers who commit to never ‘just follow orders’, but to hold ourselves, each other, and the industry accountable,” the petition states. “Sign on and join us as we demand that Google break its contract with the DoD, urge our employers to stay out of the business of war, and call upon our peers to adopt binding ethical standards for the use of AI.”
Spokespeople for Amazon and Microsoft did not respond to questions about whether or not they plan to submit proposals for the JEDI contract. We will update this story if we hear back from them. A spokesperson for Google’s Cloud division declined to comment on whether it plans to pursue the JEDI contract. IBM declined to comment, but has spoken publicly before about its interest in winning the JEDI contract.