Ex-Pentagon official behind Project Maven ‘alarmed’ by Google withdrawal

He says the initiative could save lives.

Project Maven -- the deal through which Google is providing the Pentagon with AI software that can flag drone images that require further human review -- has been a thorn in the company's side for months. Google employees have spoken out against the project and their opposition ultimately led to the company deciding not to renew the contract when it expires next year. Now, former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, who started the Project Maven initiative, is saying he's "alarmed" by Google's decision to walk away from the program.

Bloomberg reports that Work shared his concerns about the move during an event on tech in the military held today in Washington. "I fully agree that it might wind up with us taking a shot, but it could easily save lives. I believe the Google employees created an enormous moral hazard for themselves." Thousands of employees signed a petition calling for the company to end its involvement with the project and some resigned in protest. Much of the pushback cited ethical concerns over aiding the military's use of drones.

"They say, look this data could potentially, down the line, at some point, cause harm to human life," said Work. "I said, yes but it might save 500 Americans or 500 allies or 500 innocent civilians." Work also called out Google's work with China, saying any AI endeavors that include Chinese firms "will ultimately wind up in the hands of the Chinese military."

Earlier this year, a handful of Google employees also reportedly refused to work on a security tool that could have opened up more military contracts to the company. After it announced that it wouldn't renew the Project Maven contract, Google released a policy regarding how it will handle AI projects going forward. The company said it would not design or deploy AI for technologies that "are likely to cause overall harm," for weapons, for surveillance or for technologies "whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights."