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Academic Professors, Researchers, And Google Employees Protest Warfare Programs By The Tech Giant

Google logo Many internet users know that Google's business of model of free services comes with a steep price: the collection of massive amounts of information about users of its services. There are implications you may not be aware of.

A Guardian UK article by three professors asked several questions:

"Should Google, a global company with intimate access to the lives of billions, use its technology to bolster one country’s military dominance? Should it use its state of the art artificial intelligence technologies, its best engineers, its cloud computing services, and the vast personal data that it collects to contribute to programs that advance the development of autonomous weapons? Should it proceed despite moral and ethical opposition by several thousand of its own employees?"

These questions are relevant and necessary for several reasons. First, more than a dozen Google employees resigned citing ethical and transparency concerns with artificial intelligence (AI) help the company provides to the U.S. Department of Defense for Maven, a weaponized drone program to identify people. Reportedly, these are the first known mass resignations.

Second, more than 3,100 employees signed a public letter saying that Google should not be in the business of war. That letter (Adobe PDF) demanded that Google terminate its Maven program assistance, and draft a clear corporate policy that neither it, nor its contractors, will build warfare technology.

Third, more than 700 academic researchers, who study digital technologies, signed a letter in support of the protesting Google employees and former employees. The letter stated, in part:

"We wholeheartedly support their demand that Google terminate its contract with the DoD, and that Google and its parent company Alphabet commit not to develop military technologies and not to use the personal data that they collect for military purposes... We also urge Google and Alphabet’s executives to join other AI and robotics researchers and technology executives in calling for an international treaty to prohibit autonomous weapon systems... Google has become responsible for compiling our email, videos, calendars, and photographs, and guiding us to physical destinations. Like many other digital technology companies, Google has collected vast amounts of data on the behaviors, activities and interests of their users. The private data collected by Google comes with a responsibility not only to use that data to improve its own technologies and expand its business, but also to benefit society. The company’s motto "Don’t Be Evil" famously embraces this responsibility.

Project Maven is a United States military program aimed at using machine learning to analyze massive amounts of drone surveillance footage and to label objects of interest for human analysts. Google is supplying not only the open source ‘deep learning’ technology, but also engineering expertise and assistance to the Department of Defense. According to Defense One, Joint Special Operations Forces “in the Middle East” have conducted initial trials using video footage from a small ScanEagle surveillance drone. The project is slated to expand “to larger, medium-altitude Predator and Reaper drones by next summer” and eventually to Gorgon Stare, “a sophisticated, high-tech series of cameras... that can view entire towns.” With Project Maven, Google becomes implicated in the questionable practice of targeted killings. These include so-called signature strikes and pattern-of-life strikes that target people based not on known activities but on probabilities drawn from long range surveillance footage. The legality of these operations has come into question under international and U.S. law. These operations also have raised significant questions of racial and gender bias..."

I'll bet that many people never imagined -- nor want - that their personal e-mail, photos, calendars, video, social media, map usage, archived photos, social media, and more would be used for automated military applications. What are your opinions?

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Chanson de Roland

When Google first filed its organizing documents, it arrogantly and pretentiously declared “Don’t be Evil,” as among its corporate aspirations. So this is Google not being evil: Misappropriating its users information without any meaningful consent and no meaningful opportunity to negotiate consent for that expropriation of our information or to negotiate how it will be maintained and used, and now using our personal information and some of the most sophisticated AI, artificial intelligence, to dramatically enhance the U.S. military’s ability to surveil and kill people.

A few years ago, even before Google became a military contractor, Google, which is now part of the holding company Alphabet, decided to remove that “Don’t be Evil” aspiration from its corporate charter, realizing, I suppose, that its acts and very business model of misappropriating our information belied that aspiration. That was a wise move, so that Alphabet/Google at least can’t be called hypocrites for not even trying no to be evil.

But don’t be too disappointed. At least the principals of Alphabet/Google are good liberals, even to the point of being rabid liberal bigots. At least that is something; and to know that liberals can be weapons merchants too is as refreshing as it is revealing.

But for those who are disappointed, quit using Google’s services. DuckDuckGo (Duck) is an excellent replacement for Google’s search engines, and Duck doesn’t track you or collect your information. There are other email services, which at least are no worse than Google in scanning your emails. And read a good book instead of viewing YouTube, for there are some great books. And for those of you who still have a computer with ports and access to a good library, borrow their CD/DVDs to view great films. In short, there are not only good substitutes for YouTube, there are superior substitutes. And use privacy browsers, such as Brave or DuckDuckGo’s browser to prevent or at least impair Google’s ability to track you and collect your information all across the Internet on all of your computing devices.

If you do those things, Google will still do evil, but you won’t be abetting it. And if enough do it, we together can diminish Alphabet/Google’s wealth and power and, thus, its ability to do evil.

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