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Google's military AI drone program may be more lucrative than it said

It could net Google up to $250 million per year, the Intercept reports.
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Google's Project Maven program for AI-based military drone image recognition program could net the company up to $250 million per year, according to internal memos seen by The Intercept. That's a lot more than the $9 million Google reportedly told employees the contract was worth. What's more, the program may be tied to a much bigger contract, possibly the US military's JEDI Cloud program.

The information came from an email chain between Google Cloud head scientist Dr. Fei-Fei Li andScott Frohman and Aileen Black, from Google's defense sales team. "Total deal $25-$30M, $15M to Google over the next 18 months," Black wrote. "As the program grows expect spend is budgeted at 250 M per year. This program is directly related to the Sept 13 memo about moving DOD aggressively to the cloud I sent last week."

Project Maven reportedly uses AI to flag drone images for further human review, potentially saving the military a lot of time. Google has said that the technology will be used for "non-offensive purposes," and that it's drawing up ethical guidelines for the program.

I don't know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry.

Despite those assurances, employees have been up in arms against Project Maven. A dozen engineers quit on principal and over 4,000 employees signed a petition calling for Google to end the contract. The company has reportedly addressed employees multiple times in town hall meetings. During one of them, Sundar Pichai told employees that Google wanted to develop principles that "stood the test of time."

Dr. Li was well aware of the potential for bad press around Project Maven before details leaked out. "I don't know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry," she wrote in an email obtained by the New York Times. "Google Cloud has been building our theme on Democratizing AI in 2017, and [we] have been talking about Humanistic AI for enterprise. I'd be super careful to protect these very positive images."

Update: The quote from an email about the size of the contract, up to $250 million per year, was reportedly made by Aileen Black (according to The Intercept), not Fei-Fei Li as the post originally stated. The article has been updated with the correct information.

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