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.

__________________________________________________________

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Total Signatures: 1178, showing 100 per page
TitleFirst_and_Last_NamePositionDepartment/Program/FieldInstitution/AffiliiationCountry
Professor Erica Robles-Anderson Associate Professor Media, Culture, and Communication New York University United States
Mr. Divyam Rastogi Engineer Software Directi India
Ms Daria Bobyleva Researcher HR Sberbank HQ Russia
Charles Jordan Castinado Research Intern Seeflection, LLC USA
Emily Denton Doctoral student Computer Science NYU USA
Andreas Herzig Research Director CNRS, IRIT, Toulouse France
Niko Hoebe Designer the Netherlands
Prof. Werner Winzerling Professor Computer Sciences Fulda University of Applied Sciences Gemany
Prof. Agustin Breña Assistant Professor Institute of Engineering UNAM Mexico
Prof. Lisa Nathan Associate Professor iSchool University of British Columbia Canada
Dr Dimitra Kotouza Lecturer Sociology Middlesex University United Kingdom
Dr Philip Webber Chairperson Ethics Scientists for Global Responsibility UK
Marion Hammer Registered Nurse Germany
Monika Stahler USA
Koji Payne Australia
Prof. Pere Brunet Retired Full Professor Computer Science Polytechnical University of Catalonia Spain
Prof. Davide Martinenghi Politecnico di Milano Italy
Prof. Maurice Bruynooghe Prof. Em. Dept Comp. Sc. KULeuven Belgium
Dr Rebecca Fiebrink Senior Lecturer Department of Computing Goldsmiths University of London UK
Mr Arthur Campbell Private Citizen None None South Africa
Bradley Pitts Recovering Engineer Artist Bradley Pitts Studio United States
Dr Jessica Cauchard Assistant Professor Computer Science IDC Herzliya Israel
Dr. Carly Kocurek Associate Professor Digital Humanities and Media Studies Illinois Institute of Technology USA
Handan Zhang Faculty of Educational Sciences University of Oslo Norway
Professor Catherine L. Besteman Professor Anthropology Colby College USA
Prof. Maple Razsa Associate Professor and Director Global Studies Colby College United States
Mr Odd-Geir Bakkemo Norway
Ms. Felicitas Feigl Germany
Professor Emeritus Joseph Auslander Mathematics University of Maryland U.S.A.
Petra Beck Anthropology Germany
Mr Jason Prasad Trade Floor Engineer UK
Mr bertrand berlureau Humain experience DESIGNER Design and user research Inconito SAS France
Paul Knittel Aerospace United States
Mr. Bhavin Faldu Engineer Artificial Intelligence Ganpat University India
Professor Harry van der Linden Professor Emeritus Philosophy, International Relations Butler University USA
Kamil Kolasiński Citizen Scientists Poland
Mark Timberlake Senior Project Manager Independent Consultant Australia
Dr. Andrew Whitworth-Smith Professor Communication & Media Studies University of California, San Diego USA
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Engineer Micah Elizabeth Scott United States
Prof. Miroslaw Truszczynski Professor Computer Science University of Kentucky USA
Professor Boel Berner Professor em. Technology and Social Change Linköping university Sweden
Professor Yali Amit Professor Statistics University of Chicago USA
Professor Basilis Gidas Professor Applied Mathematics Brown University USA
Dr Joseph bowles Post doctoral researcher Quantum information Icfo Barcelona Spain
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Mr Michael Stroh Senior Technical Consultant Configuration Management Systems Australia
Dr Melissa Cefkin Principal Researcher USA
Ulli Wandersleb–'Muenst retired Germany
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Ameneh Shamekhi PhD student Computer Science Northeastern University United States
Stuart Geman Professor Applied Mathematics Brown University United States
Professor William Gaver Professor of Design Design Department Goldsmiths, University of London United Kingdom
Dr Kamil Korzekwa Research Fellow Physics University of Sydney Australia
Mr Michał Marczenko PhD candidate Institute of Theoretical Physics University of Wrocław Poland
Dr Matteo Lostaglio Postdoc Researcher Quantum Information Theory ICFO (The Institute of Photonic Sciences) Spain
Dr Andrea Bracciali Lecturer University of Stirling UK
Prof Roser Martinez Proffessor Administrative Law Administrative Law Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona España
Dr. Rosalie Riegle Professor Emerita English Saginaw Valley State University USA
Prof. Peter Jones Associate Professor Faculty of Design OCAD University Canada
Human Edward Humphrey Midlife Social policy Ucd Ireland
BSc Torbjörn Lundberg Student Department of Science Lund University Sweden
Prof Donald Geman Professor Applied Mathematics and Statistics Johns Hopkins University USA
Dr. Prof. Héctor Rafael Orozco Aguirre Full-time Professor University Center UAEM Valley of Mexico, Computing Science Autonomous University of Mexico State Mexico
Student Ndacyayisenga Eric student computer engineering KNUST Rwanda
Sajjad Mohammadi PhD Student Electrical Engineering Massachusetts Institute of Technology US
Ms Christina Myers Widow US
Mr. Ankit Shah Engineer Electrical Maintenance TEB, Gujarat India
Dr. Julio Cesar Ramos F. research professor Computer Science Polytechnic University of Pachuca Mexico
Dr Rune Saugmann Postdoc International relations University of Tampere Finland
Mr Bhaumik Patel Program Director Thinkful USA
Alexandre Niveau Assistant professor Artificial intelligence Normandie Université France
Prof. Paolo Ciaccia Professor Department of Computer Science and Engineering (DISI) Università di Bologna Italy
Oriana Bras Researcher University of Lisbon Portugal
Dr. Klaus B. Bærentsen Associate Professor Psychology University of Aarhus Denmark
Prof. Mema Roussopoulos Associate Professor Computer Science University of Athens Greece
Rocio Riveros Estudante Faculdade de Engenharias e Territorio UNIVERSIDADE FEDERAL DA INTEGRACAO LATINO-AMERICANA UNILA BRASIL
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