Less than three weeks after quietly acquiring artificial intelligence company Xnor.ai, Apple has swiftly canceled the company’s preexisting contract with the Pentagon that would have seen its tech used in the controversial “Project Maven” military drone operation.
That’s according to a report from The Information, citing a person familiar with the matter. Project Maven is the Pentagon’s initiative to use artificial intelligence to identify objects and targets of interest in aerial footage captured by military drones. The project has been highly controversial due to the potential for AI to presumably identify and label potential targets. Thousands of employees at Google staged protests last year over the company’s contracts for Project Maven. Those protests ultimately lead to Google withdrawing from the contract.
But it seems the higher-ups at Apple either had ideological or moral objections to the project outright or just didn’t want to suffer the consequences of similar employee (or consumer) protests. So, as The Information reports, when Apple acquired Xnor.ai earlier this month, it immediately canceled the small AI startup’s preexisting Project Maven contract.
Xnor.ai’s technology specialized in machine learning algorithms that could be run locally on a device, such as a smartphone—or drone, and thus not need to be connected to the cloud. The application of such tech is obvious in the case of drones. However, Xnor.ai’s tech also fits well with Apple’s initiatives to keep as much user data and AI and ML tech locally on iPhones in order to improve the speed in which such tech can carry out tasks, even when not connected to the internet, as well as to improve user privacy.
The Information says when it asked Apple for comment on their canceling the Project Maven contract, a company spokesperson only reiterated Apple’s standard line the company gives when acquiring other companies: “Apple buys smaller technology companies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.”