Opinion: Let Google Work on Project Maven

Google recently unrolled a new advertising campaign across New York City, emblazoning subway station walls with minimalist posters, many suggesting that we should just “Let Google do it.”


But while the newest tagline of the tech titan has been slowly swallowing the Big Apple, it’s the company’s much older motto that’s making headlines.


“Don’t be evil.”


An open letter from employees published April 6 in the New York Times asked CEO Sundar Pichai to pull Google’s hand from “Project Maven,” a collaborative endeavor with the Department of Defense focused on creating technology to analyze drone footage.


The letter, signed by over 3,000, further requests that Pichai instate “a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.”


The antiwar sentiment is agreeable, but ultimately idealistic. The 3.5 percent of Google’s employees are singing “Give Peace a Chance” too loudly to realize their employer’s role in warfare tech is not only good, but necessary.


To clarify, the artificial intelligence that Google has been creating since Project Maven was established April 2017 is non-offensive. Living up to the name of the venture (Maven is Yiddish for “accumulator of knowledge”), the technology will simply gather information in seconds, replacing the abysmally tedious job of reviewing hours of footage while risking human error.


Could it lead to human death? Absolutely. Targets will be identified and subsequently eliminated.


But by identifying innocent people, lives will be saved as well. Watchdog project Airwars recorded up to 6,000 Iraqi and Syrian civilian deaths in 2017 alone — all of them caused by airstrikes, many involving drones. Refined technology might ensure we never see those numbers again.


That doesn’t exactly sound evil.


Would these protesting Googlers hold the same convictions toward Alan Turing and his invaluable help in World War II? Considered to be the father of artificial intelligence, Turing used AI in 1943 to decrypt German transmissions and ultimately help the Allies defeat the Nazis.


Turing expert Jack Copeland, a University of Canterbury philosophy professor, posited in BBC that Turing’s collaboration with the military possibly shortened the war by at least two years, saving over 14 million lives.


Computer technology has colossally evolved over the 75 years between then and now, but the motivation driving the need for minds like Turing and at Google has remained the same: combating the opponent’s advancing technology.


The Department of Defense stated itself in an April 2017 letter that they must “integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning more to maintain advantages over increasingly capable adversaries and competitors.”


China announced last summer its intention to become the head leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, according to ScienceMag.


That goal doesn’t just stop with Chinese people paying via facial scanning (they can) or a robot passing the National Medical Licensing Exam (it did), but bleeds heavily into military projects. According to the Center for a New American Security, China is financially backing the development of artificial intelligence in autonomous weaponry and decisions made in the battlefield.


Countries like China are investing in AI to change the face of warfare in the twenty-first century. When a recent AP-NORC poll is indicating that nearly half of Americans expect relations with China to worsen, we need to ensure that we have the best technology to defend ourselves if needed.


The Department of Defense can’t do that without Silicon Valley.


So, let Google do it.

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