Google will not seek follow up Artificial Intelligence for military drone contracts

Google will not seek another contract for its controversial work providing artificial intelligence to the U.S. Department of Defense for analyzing drone footage after its current contract expires.

Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene announced the decision at a meeting with employees Friday morning, three sources told Gizmodo. The current contract expires in 2019 and there will not be a follow-up contract, Greene said. The meeting, dubbed Weather Report, is a weekly update on Google Cloud’s business.

Google would not choose to pursue Maven today because the backlash has been terrible for the company, Greene said, adding that the decision was made at a time when Google was more aggressively pursuing military work. The company plans to unveil new ethical principles about its use of AI next week. A Google spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about Greene’s comments.

Project Maven uses artificial intelligence to enhance drone strikes. Google has also worked to develop machine learning algorithms that would help the Pentagon enhance its surveillance efforts generally.

4,000 Google employees signed a petition demanding “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” About a dozen employees resigned in protest.

Google’s senior leadership was enthusiastically supportive of Project Maven—especially because it would set Google Cloud on the path to win larger Pentagon contracts—but deeply concerned about how the company’s involvement would be perceived.

Government authorization, known as FedRAMP, establishes security standards for cloud services that contract with the government. But Google didn’t have it—so it had to rely on other geospatial imagery for its early work on Project Maven. According to an email written by Aileen Black, an executive director overseeing Google’s business with the U.S. government, Project Maven sponsored Google’s application for higher levels of FedRAMP authorization, Security Requirements Guide 4 and 5. “They are really fast tracking our SRG4 ATO (security cert),” she wrote. “This is priceless.”

On March 23, 2018, Google was excited to announce that Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Google’s underlying common infrastructure have received the FedRAMP Rev. 4 Provisional Authorization to Operate (P-ATO) at the Moderate Impact level from the FedRAMP Joint Authorization Board (JAB).

Google Cloud Platform (GCP), like all our products, is built with security as a core design and development principle. Google goes to great lengths to document how their infrastructure and platforms can help their customers keep their data safe. But third-party validation helps.

FedRAMP is a U.S. government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services. FedRAMP compliance is an involved process with a high quality bar for cloud data security, and a JAB Provisional Authorization requires a rigorous technical review process.