Surveillance firm Palantir took up a Pentagon defense contract known as Project Maven after Google dropped out due to backlash.
Project Maven is a Pentagon initiative aiming to use AI technologies for deploying and monitoring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
Naturally, Google’s involvement with the initiative received plenty of backlash both internally and externally. At least a dozen employees quit Google while many others threatened to walk out if the firm continued building military products.
The pressure forced Google to abandon the lucrative Pentagon contract. However, it just meant that it was happily picked up by another company.
According to Business Insider who broke the news, the company which stepped in to develop Project Maven was Palantir – a company founded by Peter Thiel, a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and cofounder of PayPal.
Business Insider reporter Becky Peterson wrote that:
“Palantir is working with the Defense Department to build artificial intelligence that can analyze video feeds from aerial drones … Internally at Palantir, where names of clients are kept close to the vest, the project is referred to as ‘Tron,’ after the 1982 Steven Lisberger film.”
In June 2018, Thiel famously said that Google’s decision to pull out from Project Maven but push ahead with Project Dragonfly (a search project for China) amounts to “treason” and should be investigated as such.
Project Maven/Tron is described as being capable of extensive tracking and monitoring of UAVs without human input, but the unclassified information available indicates that it will not be able to fire upon targets. This is somewhat in-line with the accepted norms being established about the use of AI in the military.
Many experts accept that AI will increasingly be used in the military but are seeking to establish acceptable practices. One of the key principles is that, while an AI can track and offer advice to human operators, it should never be able to make decisions by itself which could lead to loss of life.
The rapid pace in which the Project Maven contract was picked up by another company gives credence to comments made by some tech giants that, rather than pull out from such contracts altogether – and potentially hand them to less ethical companies – it’s better to help shape them from the inside.
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