In context: Google’s controversial contract connected to Project Maven will expire in March 2019, and while Google has pledged to not renew it, an unnamed technology company will take up the work started by Google. Furthermore, Google will support the unnamed contractor with “basic” cloud services, rather than Google’s Cloud AI services. Google also appears to try and straddle the line between maintaining their early mantra of “don’t be evil” and pursuing lucrative defense contracts, like Microsoft and Amazon.
Last year, when news broke that Google had been awarded a military contract to develop AI for Project Maven, it stirred up no shortage of controversy — some of which is still coming to light. This led to many employees questioning the ethical and moral implications of such work, spurring many to resign, and many more to protest. In the end, Google conceded to the demands of its employees and has grappled with something of an identity crisis since.
Recently, in an email obtained by The Intercept, Google appeared to reiterate its commitment not to renew its contract with the Pentagon. The email was penned by Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs. “Last June, we announced we would not be renewing our image-recognition contract with the US Department of Defense connected with Project Maven,” Walker wrote.
However, Walker added a caveat of sorts, in that an unnamed contractor will take up the work Google started and use “off-the-shelf Google Cloud Platform (basic compute service, rather than Cloud AI or other Cloud Services) to support some workloads.”
It’s presently unclear what compensation Google will obtain, or what specific Project Maven workloads will be processed by Google’s Cloud services. The Intercept reached out for comment, but received no further clarification. Walker’s email also mentioned that the company was working closely with the Department of Defense to “make the transition in a way that is consistent with our AI Principles and contractual commitments.”
Google’s Project Maven contract is set to expire next month, and while Google will not renew it, the company also won’t rule out future military work, as Walker notes in his email.
We continue to explore work across the public sector, including the military, in a wide range of areas, such as cybersecurity, search and rescue, training and health care, in ways consistent with our AI Principles.