Maven is a Pentagon initiative that made headlines in 2018 after thousands of Google employees opposed the company’s involvement in the development of military technologies. Ultimately, the Mountain View giant listened to its people, but also declared openly that it expects to engage in military ventures in the future and has done so in the past. What are these projects?
Little is known about them, as it typical with Pentagon projects. These projects boost defense.
On paper, Project Maven was supposed to be a solution like this. It assumed the development of artificial intelligence (AI) to aid in the identification of vital targets on military drone recordings. So the plan was to create and integrate the computer algorithms required to assist military analysts in analyzing massive amounts of drone data.
AI would greatly accelerate video processing, allowing drones to “understand” what they see in the camera on a continuous basis. Many Silicon Valley businesses took participated in the effort, as did Google itself, which has a specialized division dubbed Google AI.
War technologies are characterized by the fact that, on the one hand, they are required, but their actual purpose is frequently questioned. And this was particularly biting Google employees, who were assigned the duty of designing a monitoring tool over business e-mails and “calls” on a nice day. These would make it easier for the US military to kill people by calling things what they are.
Of course, Google employees were not pleased, and over 3,000 employees signed a petition demanding that the company withdraw from the initiative. Because, while the official aims were known and, in theory, harmless (to aid analysts’ job), keep in mind that the Pentagon only gives out as much information as it wishes, and the remainder of the data is kept hidden.
Project Maven became so well-known in the West that many technology editors began to investigate it in order to “discover the genuine motives.” The problem is that the Pentagon’s recognition technology only assumed the identification of simple objects like cars and people, not more complex data like recognizing a human face or the exact model of a vehicle by its details, and Google confirmed the passing of Tensor Flow APIs that made it easier to detect specific military objects, not people.
However, the corporation ultimately opted not to renew the arrangement with the Pentagon, and therefore withdrew from the Maven project development, satisfying the requests of its employees. At the same time, their superiors prepped them for the future requirement to develop “things” for the US Army or the Department of Defense. Surprisingly, such coordination was formed long before the controversy broke out.
To summarize, data from Google Earth was given to the coast guard in 2005 and the US army in 2007. Eric Schmidt, Google CEO, appointed chairman of the defense innovation advisory board in 2016, the year before Project Maven was announced.
Google slightly “updated” the military programs in which it is involved and what the company’s AI is employed for after Maven became popular in 2018. Working on weapons and surveillance initiatives that would contravene international standards was likewise prohibited. And it appears to have maintained its word.
Google’s AI technology in the US military has since been useful, for example, for detecting corrosion on navy ships using “intelligent imaging” from drones. Artificial intelligence is also to help the maintenance of Air Force planes, while it provides cloud security technology to the Pentagon itself.
And although it may be surprising for many, the company we know primarily from earning on advertising based on user targeting, from the development of Maps, Android, Internet search or YouTube, is so heavily involved in military projects. What’s more, the giant has even created a special page where you can preview some of these projects. Here are some examples, including some not included:
The US Air Force, using the Google cloud, builds its own interactive training devices, thanks to which they can share them simultaneously in thousands of different places around the world, wherever the need arises
The military healthcare system uses the company’s cloud computing for predictive cancer diagnosis
Google provides the BeyondCorp platform, thanks to which you can safely use internal systems while connected to an untrusted network (and therefore not the “on-site”, military network), without using a VPN
The company has signed a contract with the CIA for the development of an agency cloud
Together with Amazon, it provides cloud services to the Israeli government under its alliance with the US
The company processes controlled government information provided by the Pentagon
The example of Google shows that technology giants are giants for a reason, and we do not hear about many projects on which companies earn billions. In turn, we also see that the US army is not alone and willingly uses the help of private, domestic companies, sometimes giving them great trust, enabling, inter alia, processing of state documents.