Google AI Used by Pentagon Drone Project in Rare Test
Google’s artificial intelligence technology is being used by the U.S. Department of Defense to analyze drone footage, a rare and controversial move by a company that’s actively limited its work with the military in the past, according to Bloomberg.
A Google spokeswoman said the company provides its TensorFlow APIs to a pilot project with the Department of Defense to help automatically identify objects in unclassified data. TensorFlow is a popular set of APIs and other tools for AI capabilities such as machine learning and computer vision.
The feature is part of a recent Pentagon contract involving Google’s cloud unit, which is trying to wrest more government spending from cloud-computing leaders Amazon and Microsoft. Google bids on federal contracts and supplies some equipment to the military, but it has been sensitive about how its technology is used.
"The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only," the Google spokeswoman said. "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."
After Google bought AI specialist DeepMind in 2014, the company set up an ethics committee to ensure the technology wasn’t abused. When it bought a series of robotics companies, it pulled one of them, Shaft, from a Pentagon competition. After the acquisition of Skybox, Google cut some of the satellite startup’s defense-related contracts and ultimately sold the business.
Information about Google’s pilot project with the Defense Department’s Project Maven was shared on an internal mailing list last week, and some Google employees were outraged that the company would offer resources to the military for surveillance technology involved in drone operations, Gizmodo reported earlier.
Google’s attitude toward military work may be changing as its cloud business competes with AWS, Microsoft and other rivals. The U.S. government is already a big cloud customer and the Pentagon is looking to the technology sector for new tools and strategies, including AI.