Now, Google has stressed that its open-source AI program that is helping the drone AI is strictly for "non-offensive use" and that it will not help future US drones with their long-range striking capabilities.
A Google spokeswoman said the company provides its TensorFlow application programming interfaces, or APIs, to a pilot project with the Department of Defense to help automatically identify objects in unclassified data.
Google's involvement in the project was not public but, apparently, internal discussion at Google, about it leaked last week.
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It's unclear whether Google has been involved in Project Maven since its inception, but at the Defense One Tech Summit last summer, Marine Corps Col. Maven's main objective is to identify various objects in drone footage using advanced computer vision, thereby removing that burden from human analysts, who can not keep up with the vast amounts of daily data. Responding to the question of ethics of using machine learning in military activities, the Google spokesperson said that the company is actively discussing the topic internally as well as with others to continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and usage of machine learning.
Move fast and break things?: In a statement, the DoD acknowledged that military use of this technology could raise some concerns, but rest assured: it is now "for non-offensive uses only". Maven's initial goal was to provide the military with advanced computer vision, enabling the automated detection and identification of objects in as many as 38 categories captured by a drone's full-motion camera, according to the Pentagon.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai is often moved to tout a technological future powered by artificial intelligence, but most would not connect the company's AI work with death from the sky.
Google has reiterated to its staff that Project Maven doesn't involve using AI for combat efforts.
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Maven is overseen by the undersecretary for defence intelligence and Lt Gen John Shanahan was selected as the project's director.
"People and computers will work symbiotically to increase the ability of weapon systems to detect objects", Marine Intelligence Officer Drew Cukor said in a Department of Defense press release past year.
Speaking to a crowd of military and industry technology experts, many from Silicon Valley, Cukor professed the United States to be in the midst of AI arms race.
In 2013, when Google acquired the robotics company Boston Dynamics, it publicly stated that while it would honour Boston Dynamics' existing military contracts, Google would not pursue new work with the DoD and that it did not plan to become a military contractor. "Key elements have to be put together ... and the only way to do that is with commercial partners alongside us".
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The Pentagon's spokesman has reportedly declined to clarify Google's role in the project.