The Intercept has obtained emails sent by high-level Google execs discussing Project Maven–the Defense Department’s controversial project that uses machine learning to speed up the time it takes computers to analyze drone footage to identify people and objects. After news of the project broke in March, several Google employees resigned in protest. To try to quash the outrage over the tech giant applying its skills to a military project, Diane Greene, the chief executive of Google’s cloud business unit, told a town hall meeting that the company’s involvement on the project was small–only $9 million in work–suggesting that such work was a one-off.
But, as the emails obtained by the Intercept show, all the way back in September Google exces talked how their Project Maven work could ramp up to $250 million a year in revenue. The emails also reveal Google was very worried as far back as September on word of their work on military projects getting out. In one email, Fei-Fei Li, the head scientist at Google Cloud, wrote:
“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 . . . 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. Google Cloud has been building our theme on Democratizing AI in 2017, and Diane and I have been talking about Humanistic AI for enterprise. I’d be super careful to protect these very positive images.”
Turns out it’s not just the media Google has to worry about. As we now know, the company’s Project Maven work is tearing Google apart.