This post is also available in: עברית (Hebrew)
Google has been experiencing internal criticism and employee resignations regarding its involvement in a pilot program of the US Department of Defense that analyzes drone footage using artificial intelligence. However, gizmodo.com reports that Google isn’t the only company partnering with the Department of Defense on Project Maven — the AI pilot program at the heart of the controversy.
The involvement of other tech companies in the project makes it seem more like a bakeoff between several leaders in the field of artificial intelligence and less like a Google-led effort. It also raises questions about whether employees at other companies will raise the same ethical objections to the program that Google employees have.
DigitalGlobe that specializes in geospatial imagery reportedly provides images and algorithms to Project Maven. IBM has been approached about participating in the project by using artificial intelligence to analyze streaming video. Nvidia has also indicated interest in the project.
However, it’s not clear whether either company has an official contract to work on the project — IBM says it does not, while Nvidia declined to comment. DigitalGlobe did not yet respond to a request for comment.
The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which provides imagery and mapping analysis to U.S. intelligence agencies and the military, approached IBM about participating in Project Maven. NGA plays a support role in the project and provides some training data used in the development of its artificial intelligence. A spokesperson for NGA confirmed to Gizmodo that the agency had approached IBM about Project Maven but noted that it does not award the contracts for the project—that responsibility is handled by DoD.
IBM has not signed a contract to work on Maven, a spokesperson for the company explained.
Google’s official contract for Maven is through a third-party agency, ECS Federal, an arrangement that helps obscure the amount Google is paid and other contract details.
IBM offers a range of artificial intelligence services under its Watson branding. The company has historically taken on military contracts and maintains strong business partnerships with the federal government — so the company may be a more natural fit for Project Maven than Google is.
The chipmaker Nvidia has also closely associated itself with Project Maven, yet its spokesperson declined to clarify the company’s involvement. “DoD has a huge influx of video coming in. Inside all this video are nuggets of intelligence, but there’s too much of it for analysts to ingest and digest to then make an intelligence decision on,” Kevin Berce, Nvidia’s business development manager. “Machine learning is going to help tell the analysts where to look. If you’re looking for a white truck, why spend time looking at hours of video where there’s no white truck? Let’s just give the analysts the video where the white truck is.”
The Department of Defense declined to elaborate on its contracts with specific tech companies but said that it works with a variety of vendors on Maven.