Google is now providing the US Department of Defense (DoD) with Artificial Intelligence technology to support and analyse the vast amount of drone surveillance collected from around the world.
From claiming to help the battle against ISIS to enhancing the military’s integration of big data, this is a bold move from the technology giant at a time when drones are playing an increasingly heightened role in combat warfare.
According to The Guardian, the announcement sparked a major outcry within the ranks of Google when an internal email was circulated this week that detailed the company’s plans to support the little known ‘Project Maven’ particularly through the use of Military controlled drones.
The project originally known as the ‘Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team’ was established in July 2017 and focussed on the US military’s machine advancement and drone use with the hope of bringing the technology ‘to an active combat theatre within six months’. It has been reported that Project Maven is but one area that saw investment from the recent $7.4 billion budget allocated to Artificial Intelligence by the Department of Defense.
It is believed that Google’s contribution to this surveillance programme will be delivered in the form of its TensorFlow AI system which hopes to be analyse collected footage and highlight any objects of interest to a human reviewer. So far, The Guardian states that the technology is for non-offensive use only.
This is not the company’s first dip into the tumultuous realms of America’s political departments and it is actually quite common for the technology powerhouses such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon to provide services to governmental bodies. What’s also interesting is that the CIA owns a venture capital arm named In-Q-Tel that already invested in Google, allowing for more access to information collected by the tech company. However the use of newly developed Artificial Intelligence being channelled into war focussed ministerial programmes has certainly brought about some heightened controversy, particularly amongst Google staff.
The moral battle raised here is the image of Artificial Intelligence being used in combat or intelligence-gathering missions both of which can, and do, have an impact on human life. From here the question arises of the reliable nature of such technology and how in a high-stakes situation the knowledge of this AI analysis could have massive implications. If successful, Project Maven could also be the trigger that sees Artificial Intelligence incorporated into many security missions and other areas of worldwide drone use going forward.
What’s more is that this new announcement brings into question the relationship between the DoD and Google’s access to restricted information. Although Amazon and Microsoft have classified cloud platforms that can be used for government purposes, Gizmodo reports that Google is yet to attain such a ‘top-secret’ space. The issue of where drone surveillance fits into these confidential realms could mean that there needs to be some time for Google to build such a platform. This, amidst Maven’s aggressive six month plan, doesn’t seem feasible.
The race to utilise artificial intelligence has always seemed inevitable. The question that now remains is how much Google’s technology is going to be exercised by the US military and how complicit Google will remain with the results, especially when the future seems to point to eventual combat use.