At Google’s campus in Mountain View, California, executives are trying to assuage thousands of employees protesting a contract with the Pentagon’s flagship artificial-intelligence initiative, Project Maven. Thousands of miles away, algorithms trained under Project Maven–which includes companies other than Google–are helping war fighters identify potential ISIS targets in video from drones.
The controversy around Silicon Valley’s cooperation with the military may intensify in coming months as Project Maven expands into new regions, including developing tools to more efficiently search captured hard drives. Funding for the project roughly doubled this year, to $131 million. Now the Pentagon is planning a new Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to serve all US military and intelligence agencies that may be modeled on Project Maven. “It’s exceeding my expectations, ” says Bob Work, who established Project Maven in April 2017 while serving as deputy secretary of defense, before retire later in the year.
Google’s precise role in Project Maven is unclear–neither the search company nor the Department of Defense will say. Two people familiar with the project said another company constructed the systems deployed on drone missions overseas.
Project Maven is formally known as the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team. A seal for the group in a recent presentation, from project chief Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, illustrates a trio of cheery cartoon robots under a Latin motto that Google Translate renders as “Our job is to help.”