'Last year, Google faced internal revolt from many employees over its handling of Project Maven, a secretive contract between the company and the Department of Defense to use artificial intelligence to improve the military’s drone targeting capabilities. After a series of internal, worker-led protests and resignations following reporting by The Intercept and Gizmodo, the company said it would wind down the drone project and promised a more transparent approach to similar work in the future.
Now, a number of Google workers are voicing concerns that the Mountain View, California-based search giant is continuing to deploy cutting-edge AI technology to the Pentagon and law enforcement customers.
Rather than directly engage in controversial contracts, Google is providing financial, technological, and engineering support to a range of startups through Gradient Ventures, a venture capital arm that Google launched in 2017 to nurture companies deploying AI in a range of fields. Google promises interested firms access to its own AI training data and sometimes places Google engineers within the companies as a resource. The firms it supports include companies that provide AI technology to military and law enforcement.
Cogniac, one of the firms in the Gradient Ventures portfolio, is providing image-processing software to the U.S. Army to quickly analyze battlefield drone data and to an Arizona county sheriff’s department to help identify when individuals cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
CAPE Productions, another Gradient Ventures-backed startup, has established itself as a premier AI-powered software solution to provide law enforcement with the ability to fly fleets of drones to conduct aerial surveillance over American cities and respond to crimes and other emergency calls.
Google employees — who spoke anonymously, fearing reprisal — said the work embraced by Gradient Ventures startups appears to circumvent the commitment by their employer to carefully vet and disclose military and law enforcement applications of AI technology.
The startups not only receive financial support from Google. Google employees shared internal company emails with The Intercept that stated that all firms backed by Gradient Ventures “will be able to access vast swaths of training data that Google has accumulated to train their own AI systems” and “will have the opportunity to receive advanced AI trainings from Google.”
Senior computer engineers from Google will rotate into firms backed by Gradient Ventures, the emails noted, to provide “the kind of hand-holding support that we think is helpful in growing an AI ecosystem.”
Read more: Google Continues Investments In Military And Police AI Technology Through Venture Capital Arm
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