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Google employees push back against company's Pentagon work

Staffers oppose the company's work on the Defense Department's Project Maven, a pilot AI program that could be used to for drone strikes.

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

Google headquarters in Mountain View, California

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Thousands of Google employees have signed a petition calling for the company to end its work with the Pentagon on artificial intelligence and image recognition tech that could be used for drone strikes.

The letter, signed by 3,100 employees, was sent to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, The New York Times reported Wednesday. The signers were speaking out against Project Maven, a Pentagon pilot program meant to speed up the Department of Defense's use of artificial intelligence technologies.

"We believe that Google should not be in the business of war," the letter stated. "Therefore we ask that Project Maven be cancelled, and that Google draft, publicize and enforce a clear policy stating that neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology."

A Google representative said in a statement that the company's work with the Pentagon is "specifically scoped to be for non-offensive purposes." Google also mentioned that the Pentagon was using "open-source object recognition software available to any Google Cloud customer" and based on unclassified data only.

"We know that there are many open questions involved in the use of new technologies, so these conversations -- with employees and outside experts -- are hugely important and beneficial," the representative wrote.

Google is not the only major tech company working with parts of the US military. Amazon provides image recognition tech to the DoD, and Microsoft offers cloud services to military and defense agencies, the Times said.