The controversial program is called "Project Maven", and it has Google applying its usual machine-learning and image-recognition expertise to millions of hours of drone footage collected by the military.
Exact reasons for leaving vary from the obvious ethical issues, both of drone warfare and the implementation of AI as part of it, through to the idea that Google's involvement is discrediting the company and that those people don't wish to be associated.
In addition to the resignations, more than 4,000 Google employees have voiced their opposition to Project Maven in an internal petition that asks Google to immediately cancel the contract and institute a policy against taking on future military work. Whilst unofficially, we know more than the government admits, Google is bound by what the public knows officially and so, therefore, there's likely to be a lot of discussions where people are prevented from discussing things that everyone knows - something that flies in the face of Google's obsession with transparency.
If so, we recommend you check this out instead: Gizmodo reports that "around a dozen" Google employees are now quitting their jobs to protest Google's continued actions.
In April we learned that a petition was circulating at Google signed by workers who wanted the search giant to sever ties with the Pentagon and stop working on a military AI project.
Google has previously said the technology flags images for human review and is for "non-offensive uses only". "We're actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine-learning technologies", the statement concluded. "It's not like Google is this little machine-learning startup that's trying to find clients in different industries", the anonymous employee told Gizmodo, "it just seems like it makes sense for Google and Google's reputation to stay out of that". In their letter, the researchers have not only asked the company executives to terminate its contract with the U.S. military but also urged them to join other AI researchers and tech executive to call for an worldwide treaty prohibiting autonomous weapon systems. "Google has moved into military work without subjecting itself to public debate or deliberation, either domestically or internationally". "They also signal a failure to engage with global civil society and diplomatic institutions that have already highlighted the ethical stakes of these technologies".
In October of 2017, over 100 companies attended an industry event related to Project Maven, according to the Defense Department. Coinciding with a Defense Department article from 2017, "The project's first task involves developing and integrating computer-vision algorithms needed to help military and civilian analysts encumbered by the sheer volume of full-motion video data that DoD collects every day in support of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations." .