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In wake of Project Maven backlash, Google unveils new AI policies

In wake of Project Maven backlash, Google unveils new AI policies
[Photo: Noah_Loverbear/Wikimedia Commons]

Today Google unveiled a new set of principles guiding its approach to artificial intelligence, including a pledge not to build AI weapons, “technologies that gather or use information for surveillance violating internationally accepted norms” or ones “whose purpose contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

The statement comes amid employee discontent over Google’s involvement in Project Maven, a controversial Pentagon AI program that seeks, among other things, to use machine learning to quickly detect and categorize objects in images captured by drones. After several employees quit and thousands of others signed a petition against the program, Google has said it will end its participation when its current contract expires next year. Other tech companies have been closemouthed about their role in the program.

In a blog post, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said the company won’t stop working with the military entirely: It will still potentially work with the armed forces on areas including cybersecurity, recruitment and training, veterans’ healthcare and search and rescue. Google is widely seen as a potential contender for a massive contract to move Defense Department systems to cloud servers.

“These collaborations are important and we’ll actively look for more ways to augment the critical work of these organizations and keep service members and civilians safe,” he wrote.

In general, the company says it will avoid using AI in areas that “cause or are likely to cause overall harm” and areas that create or contribute to “unfair bias.” Researchers have warned AI systems could pick up racial, gender and other biases from society at large depending on the training sets and methods used to teach them to process data. Google also vowed to incorporate “strong safety and security practices” and “privacy design principles” and to ensure its AI systems are “accountable to people.”

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