Endless Wars: Pentagon Drone Program Partners With Google
Google’s artificial intelligence technology is being deployed by the United States Department of Defense (DOD) in the form of computer algorithms and artificial intelligence systems to analyze unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) footage, a controversial move that unleashed a firestorm among Google employees as they learned their employer is actively promoting America’s endless wars.
According to an internal source at Google, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Gizmodo, Google recently stuck their tentacles into a super secret program with the Defense Department’s Project Maven, which is an effort to utilize deep learning algorithms that autonomously extract objects of interest from moving or still UAV imagery.
Some Google employees were mentally disturbed that their employer would even consider offering resources to the military-industrial complex’s controversial UAV operations in the Middle East and elsewhere. Sources told Gizmodo that some employees “raised important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.”
Last fall at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), Google’s Eric Schmidt said, “There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly.” While Google claims its involvement in Project Maven is not directly related to the combat zone, the issue has still infuriated employees, sources stated.
Project Maven is known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT). Maven is a quick moving program established in April 2017, which its mission statement reads: “accelerate DoD’s integration of big data and machine learning.” In total, the Defense Department spent $7.4 billion on artificial intelligence-related areas in 2017, the Wall Street Journal said.
According to Greg Allen, a senior fellow at CNAS, who co-authored a July 2017 report titled “Artificial Intelligence and National Security” said Project Maven’s first task was to help the Pentagon search through terabytes of UAV footage — an amount so vast that human security analyst could not keep up with the machines. Gizmodo states the Pentagon has allocated funds to advanced sensor technologies to gather information during UAV flight operations but has miserably failed at investing into deep learning algorithms to comb through the recovered data.
“Before Maven, nobody in the department had a clue how to properly buy, field, and implement AI,” Allen wrote.
Starting in December 2017, Maven was tasked with using deep learning algorithms to identify vehicles and other war machines in UAV footage against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which ultimately took the stress off security analyst. Maven provides the Department of Defense with an automated solution: detection and identification of 38 classes of objects through a UAV’s high-tech surveillance sensors.
A Google spokesperson told Gizmodo in a statement that it is working with the Defense Department in developing TensorFlow APIs, which are critical in machine learning applications, to aid and support military analyst with algorithms that detect objects in images. The spokesperson acknowledged the controversial nature of using artificial intelligence for military purposes but said Google is working “to develop policies and safeguards” around its use.
“We have long worked with government agencies to provide technology solutions. This specific project is a pilot with the Department of Defense, to provide open source TensorFlow APIs that can assist in object recognition on unclassified data,” the spokesperson said. “The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only. 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.”
Gizmodo says the Defense Department set an aggressive timeline for Maven — the project was up and running just six months after it was founded (April 2017), and reportedly has already been deployed fighting the Islamic State since December. Last year, Lt. Gen. John Shanahan was selected as Maven’s director. Shanahan says Maven is “the flame front of artificial intelligence” across the entire Defense Department.
At the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington, Maven chief Marine Corps Col. Drew Cuko said, “There is no ‘black box’ that delivers the AI system the government needs, at least not now,” he continued. “Key elements have to be put together … and the only way to do that is with commercial partners alongside us.”
Gizmodo noted that a spokesperson for the Defense Department declined to answer whether Google was its only private industry partner on Project Maven.
“Similar to other DOD programs, Project Maven does not comment on the specifics of contract details, including the names and identities of program contractors and subcontractors,” the spokesperson said.
The revolving door between Google and the Department of Defense has ushered in an era of an artificial intelligence takeover of America’s high-tech war machines. This won’t end well…