Open Letter in Support of Google Employees and Tech Workers

Researchers in Support of Google Employees: Google should withdraw from Project Maven and commit to not weaponizing its technology.

An Open Letter To:

Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet;
Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google;
Diane Greene, CEO of Google Cloud;
and Fei-Fei Li, Chief Scientist of AI/ML and Vice President, Google Cloud,

As scholars, academics, and researchers who study, teach about, and develop information technology, we write in solidarity with the 3100+ Google employees, joined by other technology workers, who oppose Google’s participation in Project Maven. We wholeheartedly support their demand that Google terminate its contract with the DoD, and that Google and its parent company Alphabet commit not to develop military technologies and not to use the personal data that they collect for military purposes. The extent to which military funding has been a driver of research and development in computing historically should not determine the field’s path going forward. We also urge Google and Alphabet’s executives to join other AI and robotics researchers and technology executives in calling for an international treaty to prohibit autonomous weapon systems.

Google has long sought to organize and enhance the usefulness of the world’s information. Beyond searching for relevant webpages on the internet, Google has become responsible for compiling our email, videos, calendars, and photographs, and guiding us to physical destinations. Like many other digital technology companies, Google has collected vast amounts of data on the behaviors, activities and interests of their users. The private data collected by Google comes with a responsibility not only to use that data to improve its own technologies and expand its business, but also to benefit society. The company’s motto “Don’t Be Evil” famously embraces this responsibility.

Project Maven is a United States military program aimed at using machine learning to analyze massive amounts of drone surveillance footage and to label objects of interest for human analysts. Google is supplying not only the open source ‘deep learning’ technology, but also engineering expertise and assistance to the Department of Defense.

According to Defense One, Joint Special Operations Forces “in the Middle East” have conducted initial trials using video footage from a small ScanEagle surveillance drone. The project is slated to expand “to larger, medium-altitude Predator and Reaper drones by next summer” and eventually to Gorgon Stare, “a sophisticated, high-tech series of cameras…that can view entire towns.” With Project Maven, Google becomes implicated in the questionable practice of targeted killings. These include so-called signature strikes and pattern-of-life strikes that target people based not on known activities but on probabilities drawn from long range surveillance footage. The legality of these operations has come into question under international[1] and U.S. law.[2] These operations also have raised significant questions of racial and gender bias (most notoriously, the blanket categorization of adult males as militants) in target identification and strike analysis.[3] These problems cannot be reduced to the accuracy of image analysis algorithms, but can only be addressed through greater accountability to international institutions and deeper understanding of geopolitical situations on the ground.

While the reports on Project Maven currently emphasize the role of human analysts, these technologies are poised to become a basis for automated target recognition and autonomous weapon systems. As military commanders come to see the object recognition algorithms as reliable, it will be tempting to attenuate or even remove human review and oversight for these systems. According to Defense One, the DoD already plans to install image analysis technologies on-board the drones themselves, including armed drones. We are then just a short step away from authorizing autonomous drones to kill automatically, without human supervision or meaningful human control. If ethical action on the part of tech companies requires consideration of who might benefit from a technology and who might be harmed, then we can say with certainty that no topic deserves more sober reflection – no technology has higher stakes – than algorithms meant to target and kill at a distance and without public accountability.

We are also deeply concerned about the possible integration of Google’s data on people’s everyday lives with military surveillance data, and its combined application to targeted killing. Google has moved into military work without subjecting itself to public debate or deliberation, either domestically or internationally. While Google regularly decides the future of technology without democratic public engagement, its entry into military technologies casts the problems of private control of information infrastructure into high relief.

Should Google decide to use global internet users’ personal data for military purposes, it would violate the public trust that is fundamental to its business by putting its users’ lives and human rights in jeopardy. The responsibilities of global companies like Google must be commensurate with the transnational makeup of their users. The DoD contracts under consideration by Google, and similar contracts already in place at Microsoft and Amazon, signal a dangerous alliance between the private tech industry, currently in possession of vast quantities of sensitive personal data collected from people across the globe, and one country’s military. They also signal a failure to engage with global civil society and diplomatic institutions that have already highlighted the ethical stakes of these technologies.

We are at a critical moment. The Cambridge Analytica scandal demonstrates growing public concern over allowing the tech industries to wield so much power. This has shone only one spotlight on the increasingly high stakes of information technology infrastructures, and the inadequacy of current national and international governance frameworks to safeguard public trust. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of systems engaged in adjudicating who lives and who dies.
We thus ask Google, and its parent company Alphabet, to:

  • Terminate its Project Maven contract with the DoD.
  • Commit not to develop military technologies, nor to allow the personal data it has collected to be used for military operations.
  • Pledge to neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade or use of autonomous weapons; and to support efforts to ban autonomous weapons.

__________________________
[1] See statements by Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights and by Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions.

[2] See for example Murphy & Radsan 2009.

[3] See analyses by Reaching Critical Will 2014, and Wilke 2014.

__________________________________________________________

Add Your Signature to this Letter:

Total Signatures: 1118, showing 100 per page
TitleFirst_and_Last_NamePositionDepartment/Program/FieldInstitution/AffiliiationCountry
Prof. Lucy Suchman Professor Science & Technology Studies Lancaster University United Kingdom
Prof. Lilly Irani Assistant Professor Communication & Science and Technology Studies University of California, San Diego USA
Prof. Peter Asaro Associate Professor School of Media Studies The New School USA
Prof. Yoshua Bengio Director Montreal Institute for Learning Algoritms (MILA) University of Montreal Canada
Prof. Maya Wiley Henry Cohen Professor & Co-Director Digital Equity Laboratory The New School USA
Prof. Terry Winograd Professor Emeritus Computer Science Stanford University United States
Prof. Sarah Kiesler Professor, SIGCHI Lifetime Achievement Award Computer Science Carnegie Mellon University USA
Prof. Ben Shneiderman Distinguished University Professor Computer Science University of Maryland USA
Prof. Hugh Gusterson Professor Anthropology & International Affairs George Washington University USA
Prof. Judith Olson SIGCHI lifetime achievement award, Professor Information and Computer Sciences UC Irvine USA
Prof. and Lord Anthony Giddens Professor Emeritus and Member House of Lords AI Committee Department of Sociology London School of Economics UK
Prof. Mark Graham Professor and Turing Fellow Internet Geography; Turing Institute University of Oxford UK
Prof. Derek Gregory Distinguished Professor Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and Department of Geography University of British Columbia Canada
Prof. Frank Pasquale Professor School of Law University of Maryland Carey School of Law USA
Prof. Fred Turner Harry and Norman Chandler Professor of Communication Department of Communication Stanford University USA
Prof. Noam Chomsky Institute Professor Professor of Linguistics Emeritus MIT USA
Prof. Toby Walsh Professor Artificial Intelligence UNSW Sydney and TU Berlin Australia
Professor J. Mark Bishop Director The Centre for Intelligent Data Analytics Goldsmiths, University of London United Kingdom
Dr. Dave Redell Senior Software Engineer, retired Xerox, DEC, Google USA
Prof. Jonathan Sterne James McGill Professor of Culture and Technology Art History and Communication Studies McGill University Canada
Prof. Jim Hollan Distinguished Professor Computer Science & Engineering UC San Diego USA
Prof. Daniel E. Atkins Emeritus W.K. Kellogg Professor Information and EECS University of Michigan USA
Prof. Biella Coleman Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy Art History and Communication Studies McGill University Canada
Prof. Paul Dourish Chancellor’s Professor Informatics UC Irvine USA
Prof. Dhruv Raina Professor Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University India
Prof. Doug Rushkoff Founder Laboratory for Digital Humanism Queens College USA
Prof. Judy Wajcman Anthony Giddens Professor Sociology London School of Economics UK
Prof. Lisa Parks Professor Comparative Media Studies MIT USA
Prof. Kim Fortun 4S President, Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology UC Irvine USA
Prof. Evan Selinger Professor Philosophy Rochester Institute of Technology USA
Prof. Anita Say Chan Associate Professor Institute for Communication Research University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign USA
Prof. Val Hartouni Professor and Chair Communication UC San Diego USA
Prof. Trebor Scholz Associate Professor Culture and Media The New School USA
Prof. Trevor Pinch Goldwin Smith Professor Science and Technology Studies Cornell University USA
Prof. Volker Wulf Professor Information Systems University of Siegen Germany
Prof. Weibe Bijker Professor Department of interdisciplinary studies of culture Norwegian University of Science and Technology Norway
Prof. Geof Bowker Donald Bren Chair of Information and Computer Sciences Department of Informatics UC Irvine USA
Prof. Alisse Waterston Presidential Scholar and Professor Department of Anthropology City University of New York- John Jay College of Criminal Justice USA
Prof. Martha Lampland Professor Sociology and Science Studies UC San Diego USA
Prof. John Law Professor Emeritus Science and Technology Studies Open University UK
Prof. Andy Pickering Professor Emeritus Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology University of Exeter UK
Prof. Leslie Regan Shade Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto Canada
Prof. Michael Lynch Professor Science and Technology Studies Cornell USA
Prof. Antonio Casilli Telecommunication School (TELECOM PARISTECH) Paris Institute of Technology France
Austin Henderson Computer Scientist, retired Interaction Architecture and Evolutionary Development Rivendell Consulting USA
Prof. Allen Feldman Professor Media, Culture and Communication New York University USA
Prof. Caren Kaplan Professor American Studies UC Davis USA
Prof. Carsten Oesterland Associate Professor School of Information Studies Syracuse University USA
Prof. Chris Kelty Professor Institute for Society and Genetics, Department of Anthropology, and Department of Information Studies UC Los Angeles USA
Prof. Christena Nippert-Eng Professor Department of Informatics Indiana University Bloomington USA
Prof. Clayton Lewis Professor Computer Science University of Colorado USA
Prof. Cori Hayden Associate Professor Anthropology UC Berkeley USA
Prof. David Phillips Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto Canada
Prof. David Price Professor Anthropology St. Martin's University USA
Prof. David Wallace Clinical Associate Professor School of Information University of Michigan USA
Prof. Ian Kerr Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology, Faculty of Law University of Ottawa Canada
Dr. Jamie Woodcock Researcher Oxford Internet Institute Oxford University UK
Prof. Jeff Johnson Professor Computer Science University of San Francisco USA
Prof. Joe Masco Professor Department of Anthropology University of Chicago USA
Prof. Jordan Crandall Professor Department of Visual Arts UC San Diego USA
Prof. Kelly Gates Associate Professor Communication and Science Studies UC San Diego USA
Prof. Lawrence Cohen Professor and Co-Director Medical Anthropology Program; Anthroplogy and of South and Southeast Asian Studies UC Berkeley USA
Prof. Marisol de la Cadena Professor Anthropology & Science Studies UC Davis USA
Prof. Matt Ratto Associate Professor Faculty of Information University of Toronto Canada
Prof. Paul Duguid Associate Full Professor School of Information UC Berkeley USA
Prof. Ricardo Dominguez Associate Professor Department of Visual Arts UC San Diego USA
Prof. Robert Horwitz Professor and Chair-elect, UCSD Academic Senate Department of Communication UC San Diego USA
Prof. Roberto Gonzalez Professor and Chair Department of Anthropology San Jose State University USA
Severo Ornstein Computer Scientist, retired Xerox Palo Alto Research Center Xerox USA
Prof. Shannon Mattern Professor School of Media Studies The New School USA
Prof. Shaowen Bardzell Professor School of Informatics and Computing Indiana University USA
Prof. Steven J. Wagner Professor Philosophy University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign USA
Prof. Noel Sharkey Professor Emeritus AI and Robotics University of Sheffield UK
Professor Jeffrey Sachs University Professor Sustainable Development Columbia University United States
Prof. Doug James Full Professor Computer Science Stanford University USA
Prof. Bart Selman Professor Computer Science Cornell University USA
Prof. Eric Roberts Professor emeritus Computer Science Stanford University USA
Professor James Landay Professor Computer Science Stanford University USA
Prof Dr Patrick van der Smagt Director of AI Research Data:Lab Volkswagen Group Germany
Prof. Steve Woolgar Professor Science and Technology Studies Linköping University Sweden
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Schmidhuber Co-Founder & Chief Scientist and Scientific Director AI NNAISENSE and Swiss AI Lab, IDSIA, USI & SUPSI Switzerland
Professor Claire Potter Professor History The New School USA
Prof. Bruno Siciliano Professor Dept. Electrical Engineering & Information Technology University of Naples Federico II Italy
Dr. Miguel Gonzalez-Mendoza President Mexican AI Society México
Mr. Jeremiah Perkins Senior (IMINT/GEOINT) Intelligence Analyst --- Defense Intelligence Agency USA
Prof. Marco Dorigo F.R.S.-FNRS Research Director IRIDIA, AI lab Université libre de Bruxelles Belgium
Prof. Kamala Visweswaran Associate Professor Anthroplogy UC San Diego USA
Prof. Illah Nourbakhsh K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies The Robotics Institute Carnegie Mellon University USA
Distinguished Professor Mary-Anne Williams Director, Magic Lab Artificial Intelligence University of Technology Sydney Australia
Dr. Rino Falcone Director Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies National Research Council of Italy Italy
Dr Kate Henne Canada Research Chair & Associate Professor Regulation & Governance University of Waterloo & Australian National University Canada & Australia
Professor Dominique Boullier Professor Digital Humanities institute EPFL Switzerland
Prof. Liam Bannon Emeritus Professor Compuer Science & Information Systems University of Limerick Ireland
Prof. Paula Chakravartty Associate Professor Media, Culture and Communication NYU USA
Prof. Hal Daumé III Professor Computer Science University of Maryland USA
Prof. Kate Crawford Distinguished Research Professor AI & STS NYU & MSR USA
Prof. Christian Sandvig Professor Information and Communication Studies University of Michigan USA
Professor Luis Pereira Professor Emeritus Computer Science Universidade Nova de Lisboa Portugal
Prof. David Warren Professor, Emeritus Computer Science Stony Brook University United States
Dr. Christiane Paul Curator / Director Media Studies The New School US