The tech company has made it clear that when a contract with the United States Department of Defense expires in 2019, said contract won’t be renewed. Employees were informed on Friday when Diane Greene, the head of Google Cloud, shared the news during a weekly meeting.
According to Gizmodo, the announcement was motivated by a desire to shut down an employee rebellion before it could go any further. Google’s internal unrest became the subject of public record back in April, when thousands signed a letter protesting the company’s work with the Defense Department.
Greene made the announcement because it was her Google Cloud division that won the Pentagon contract. Their work on Project Maven aimed to use artificial intelligence to better interpret video imagery that would, in turn, improve the targeting capabilities of military drones.
In the April letter, employees raised concerns about the company’s work on what amounted to a military project.
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter begins. “Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”
Google has been wrestling internally for months with the prospect of military work. Emails viewed by The New York Times show that the initial contract was valued at $9 million, “or a possible $15 million over 18 months.” That’s small by Google standards, in light of the company’s reported $110.8 billion in revenue for 2017.
But higher-ups apparently viewed the Project Maven contract as a gateway into future work. An internal email from September suggested that Maven could eventually grow into a $250 million-a-year contract, and eventually lead to a multi-year, multi-billion dollar deal to work on a cloud computing project called Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI).
It seems now that the internal pushback bred doubts about that line of thinking. The April letter, which was signed by around 4,000 employees, including a number of top engineers, was followed by resignations and more public appeals for the company to reconsider its strategy.
Gizmodo doesn’t quote Greene directly, though the report points out that Google wouldn’t have pursued the Maven contract in today’s climate, given the backlash. She added that the company, which recently scrubbed “Don’t Be Evil” from its official code of conduct, will share its new ethical framework regarding the use of AI next week.