New details on Google’s involvement in a controversial Pentagon A.I. drone program have come to light after internal emails were recently leaked.
According to a May article from The New York Times, Diane Greene, the chief executive of Google Cloud, alleged during a weekly company meeting that the contract was worth only $9 million after employees began protesting the project.
The leaked emails, however, show Google believed Project Maven, which calls for using artificial intelligence to analyze drone footage, would generate revenue anywhere from $15 million up front to as much as $250 million per year.
“Total deal $25-$30M, $15M to Google over the next 18 months,” Aileen Black, a member of Google’s defense sales team, wrote in September. “As the program grows expect spend is budgeted at 250 M per year.”
Google also voiced concern over the potential public-relations issues that would ensue if the project were to leak to the media.
“This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google. You probably heard Elon Musk and his comment about AI causing WW3,” wrote Dr. Fei-Fei Li, Google Cloud’s head scientist. “I don’t know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry.”
Fei-Fei also appeared to push for Google to control the A.I. narrative ahead of any potential revelations about Project Maven.
“Google Cloud has been building our theme on Democratizing AI in 2017, and Diane and I have been talking about Humanistic AI for enterprise,” Fei-Fei added. “I’d be super careful to protect these very positive images.”
After Google was awarded the contract, more than 3,100 employees signed a letter to company CEO Sundar Pichai demanding and end to the project.
“We believe that Google should not be in the business of war,” the letter, obtained by The New York Times, said.
Despite reporting to the contrary, a Google spokesman told Bloomberg last March that the technology would not be used in offensive military scenarios.
“The technology flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only,” the spokesman said.
As of publication, Google has not yet responded to news of the leaked emails.