Google and Project Maven (A): Big Tech, Government and the AI Arms Race
In April 2018, after it became known that Google was collaborating with the US Department of Defense on Project Maven, over 3,000 employees signed an internal memo asking CEO Sundar Pichai to (a) cancel the project immediately, and (b) enforce a policy stating that the company would never build warfare technology. Project Maven had been launched in early 2017 as part of the DoD's efforts to integrate AI and machine learning into its defense strategies. Drones, robots and AI were increasingly deployed in intelligence gathering and combat operations in what was considered a 21st century "arms race." While Google described its role as "non-offensive," the memo argued that involvement in Project Maven might hurt its reputation and ability to attract talent at a time when public trust in technology was waning. The case puts students in the shoes of a recent hire faced with the choice of signing the memo. It also invites them to consider how they would respond, as CEO, to such a petition against one of the company's contracts.