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
Mr Amarnath MB Engineer Software India
Simon David Hirsbrunner PhD candidate STS University of Siegen Germany
Maya Ganesh PhD candidate Digital Cultures Studies and STS Leuphana University Germany / India
Dr Vicky Singleton Sociology Lancaster University UK
Mr, Jesper Balslev Senior Lecturer Philosophy Roskilde University Denmark
Dr. Jon Hovland Honerud Associate Professor Business Management University of Southeast Norway Norway
Professor Celia Roberts Professor of Gender and Science Studies Department of Sociology Lancaster University UK
Professor Sabina Leonelli Professor in Philosophy and History of Science Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology University of Exeter UK
Dr Adrian Mackenzie Professor Sociology Lancaster University UK
Mrs Odile Papillon Canada
Dr Kate Devlin Senior Lecturer Computing Goldsmiths, University of London UK
Daniel Rawnsley France
Michel Chammas Researcher Digital Humanities University of Balamand Lebanon
Dr Bruno Turnheim Research Fellow Manchester Institute of Innovation Research (MIoIR) University of Manchester United Kingdom
Dr Jenny Krutzinna Reseracher Department of Administration and Organization Theory University of Bergen Norway
Mr Nawfal ABBASSI SABER Engineer Machine learning France
Cesare montresor Software developer Italy
Professor Andrew Webster Professor os Science Studies STS University of York United Kingdom
Dr Catherine Will Reader School of Law, Politics and Sociology University of Sussex UK
Dr Samuel Nowakowski professor University of Lorraine France
Erin McElroy Doctoral Candidate Feminist Studies UC Santa Cruz United States
Dr Stuart Hogarth Lecturer Department of Sociology University of Cambridge UK
Katrina Sluis Co-Director Centre for the Study of the Networked Image London South Bank University UK
Dr Mark Perry Reader Computer Science Brunel University United Kingdom
Mikkel Lepperød Phd student Computational Neuroscience University of Oslo Norway
Mr Richard Casemore United Kingdom
Dr Christine Aicardi Senior Research Fellow Science and Technology Studies King's College London UK
Dr Adam Linson Research Fellow Computing Science & Philosophy University of Stirling United Kingdom
Anurag Kashyap R&D Engineer Machine Learning IPsoft Global Services India
Dr. Maria Lecturer Health and Wellbeing DMU UK
Ms. Olya Kudina PhD cand. Philosophy of Technology University of Twente The Netherlands/ Ukraine
Professor Paul Martin Professor of Sociology Sociological Studies University of Sheffield United Kingdom
Mr Sam Hogg Researcher United Kingdom
Mr Giovanni Remigi Software Engineer Ireland
Dr. Gemma Galdon Clavell Director Ethics of technology Éticas Research and Consulting Spain
Martin Bodin Postdoc Computer Science Universidad de Chile Chile
Dr Christian Drescher Research Engineer Artificial Intelligence Research Mercedes-Benz Germany
Emma Greeson PhD Candidate Sociology University of California, San Diego USA
Prof. Mathieu Triclot Associate Professor Philosophy of Technology UTBM France
David Benqué PhD Candidate Information Experience Design Royal College of Art United Kingdom
Mrs Beer Bergman Trainer & speaker, author Digital sociology / Digital Hospitality France
Prof olivier ertzscheid Senior lecturer Information and Communication studies University of Nantes France
Dr Martin Weinel Researcher Science & Technology Studies Cardiff University UK
Fernando Sar Engineer UK
Dr. David A. Shamma Distinguished Senior Scientist FXPAL USA
Ms Helen Taranowski Researcher Designer University of the Arts London UK
Dr. Abdallah El Ali Researcher Human Computer Interaction Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) The Netherlands
dhr Steven Pemberton Researcher Computer Science CWI Netherlands
Dr. Carolyn Elerding United States
Dr. Sergio Cabrero Researcher CWI The Netherlands
Dr. Michael Reinsborough Researcher Health and Social Sciences University of West of England United Kingdom
Terje Colbjørnsen Postdoctoral researcher Media and communication University of Oslo Norway
Patricia Cesco Conservateur des bibliothèques Bibliothèque universitaire Université Lyon 3 France
M. Sc. Lorenzo Zanetti PhD Student - researcher Nuclear Physics - Data analysis Germany
Dr Max Garagnani Lecturer Computing Goldsmiths, University of London UK
Dr. Djoerd Hiemstra Associate Professor Computer Science University of Twente The Netherlands
Dr Silvia Casini Lecturer Film and Visual Culture University of Aberdeen UK
Ms. Kimberly Martin Civilian Call Taker Communications Canada
M. Léonard Perez France
Rita Silva Portugal
Dr Ivan Herman Senior Researcher Computer Science CWI The Netherlands
Prof. Ernst Homburg Professor History of Technology Maastricht University Netherlands
M Aziz SEGAOUI software engineer IT Private Sector Morocco
Llana Cavallini Concerned Citizen France
Ms. Phoenix Perry Lecturer Computing Goldsmiths UK
Muhammad Ikhsan Software Engineer ID
Mr Moulay Bourazza Data Management Sales Director Commercial PBS France
Mr Tijs Maas Msc student Artificial Intelligence University of Amsterdam Netherlands
Mr Mark Turner CTO Technology Private sector UK
Dr. Tiago Buckup Senior Research Scientist Physical Chemistry Department Heidelberg University Germany
Drs Richard_Dorland Advisor Learning Gouvernement Netherlands
Dr Faye Wade Research Fellow Scoiology University of Edinburgh UK
Dr Dan McQuillan Lecturer in Creative & Social Computing Computing Goldsmiths, University of London UK
Dr. Prajit Basu Professor Philosophy University of Hyderabad India
Dr. Poonam Pandey Post-Doctoral Fellow Department of Science and Technology- Centre for Policy Research Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore India
Julie Chamberlin United States
Mr sanoj Researcher CSSP/SSS JNU New Delhi India
Dr Barbara Ribeiro Research Associate Manchester Institute of Innovation Research University of Manchester United Kingdom
Hima Bindhu Software Engineer Business Intelligence India
Mr. Muhammad Haseeb Web Developer Department of Computer Science Anjuman Institute of Technology and Management India
Mr. William Younanian Student Collège André-Grasset Canada
Klaus Hans Teuschler Curator Germany
Dr Angela Martinez Dy Lecturer Entrepreneurship Loughborough University UK
Dr. Gastón de los Reyes Jr. Assistant Professor School of Business George Washington University USA
Dr Robert Meckin Research associate Sociology University of Manchester UK
Rahma Mian Lecturer Communication and Design Habib University, Karachi Pakistan
Prof. Sébastien Broca Assistant Professor Culture & Communication Université Paris 8 France
Prof. Ingrid Erickson Assistant Professor Information Studies Syracuse University USA
Dr. Heide Solbrig Full-Time Instructor Liberal Arts New Hampshire Institute of Art United States
Mr. Zaid Memon Student Computer Science FAST NUCES Pakistan
Isidro Urquia Citizens Filmaker Humanity United States
Gulab Prasad Cloud Architect Cloud Computing India
Dr. Guillaume Androz Signal processing and software developer Healthcare Icentia inc. Canada
Dr. Matthias Korn Post Doc Information Systems University of Siegen Germany
mr Shivmohan Prajapati research scholar STS central university of Gujarat India
Dr Patrick Crogan Associate Professor of Digital Cultures Department of Arts, Education and Creative Industries University of the West of England, Bristol United Kingdom
Prof. Becky Mansfield Professor Geography Ohio State University United States
Adam Yala PhD Candidate Computer Science MIT United States
Dr Daniel Estrada Lecturer Philosophy New Jersey Institute of Technology USA
William Glück Developer Brazil