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Google Won't Renew Pentagon AI Drone Deal After Staff Backlash

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 6/1/2018 Mark Bergen
The Google Inc. logo hangs illuminated at the company's exhibition stand at the Dmexco digital marketing conference in Cologne, Germany.: Google Grapples With `Horrifying' Reaction to Its Uncanny AI © Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi Google Grapples With `Horrifying' Reaction to Its Uncanny AI

(Bloomberg) -- Google decided not to renew its contract with a Pentagon drone program once it expires, after extensive protests from employees of the internet giant.

Diane Greene, head of the cloud business at Alphabet Inc.’s Google, told staff on Friday that the company will let the deal lapse when it runs out in March 2019, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Signed last September, the contract lets the Defense Department use Google artificial intelligence tools to analyze drone footage for an initiative called Project Maven. It was part of a major push by Greene to break into the lucrative business of selling cloud services to the government, where Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. dominate.

"We’ve always said this was an 18-month contract that we did, so it ends in March of 2019. And there will be no follow-on to Maven," Greene told cloud division staff on Friday.

The Pentagon deal sparked a huge debate inside Google, which has historically avoided most military work. More than 4,000 employees signed a letter asking to cancel the contract and demanded that Google and its AI technology should not be in the business of war. At least a dozen staff resigned over the issue.

Gizmodo reported Greene’s decision earlier on Friday. A Google spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.

Greene’s division is also pushing for a much larger Pentagon cloud deal -- the multibillion-dollar Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, or JEDI, contract.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Bergen in San Francisco at mbergen10@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jillian Ward at jward56@bloomberg.net, Alistair Barr

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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