“Don’t be evil” was a motto used in Google’s corporate code of conduct when it was founded in 1998. Many soon-to-be employees were drawn to the company because of its ethos as espoused in this admirable idea. (Its motto is now “Do the right thing.”)
Lately, it has become evident that an influential group of Google employees consider the United States military to be evil. As a reminder, the U.S. military includes American citizens who saved much of the western world from Hitler and Stalin, not to mention most of East Asia from Japan.
I’ve visited many of these places. For example, East Germany, both before and after the Wall came down — thanks to the “evil” military of America. We’ve all read about various deadly despots who have been curtailed and called to answer for their deeds, often because of America’s military.
We’ve made our military mistakes, but they came about because of decisions from the White House and Congress. In numerous instances, the military has acted as a brake on legislative and administrative military initiatives and over-reach. Over the past decade, some members of the high military brass have stated certain military initiatives in congressional districts are not needed, much to the chagrin of pork-barrel politicians.
Due to a cadre of Google employees, this company has canceled a contract with the Department of Defense called Project Maven (I am basing my sources on doing Google searches and Fortune Magazine, June 2019, pp. 90-99).
This cancellation did not come about from the owners (stockholders) of the company (now called Alphabet). It came about because of a powerful group of employees who felt betrayed by their company doing business with the Pentagon.
Maven revolves around projects using artificial intelligence (AI) to assist analysts in examining video images taken from drones. The executives at Google have stated Maven is a defensive, not an offensive project. It made no difference. The anti-Maven employees at Google “were worried that Google’s technology could ultimately be used to make drone strikes more lethal and lead to additional deals between Google and the military.”
One of Google’s former employees, who quit the company because of Maven, said, “It was such a betrayal. …We’re pretending to be a happy company that does lovely information organizing, and then you’re building several steps toward killer drones flying around.”
Perhaps this person overlooked the huge Google “lovely information organizing” initiative of recording the location of my private residence (and yours), including our back yards, one of the few places in urban America where we are supposed to have some privacy. I suppose this gross invasion of privacy is not on her list of so-called Google betrayals. Selective conscience is a convenient vehicle to carry along in life.
Last month, Google announced it would not renew its Maven contract with the DOD, and also vowed not to use AI to create weapons.
Consequently, one of the world’s software firms is getting out of a technology that both friends and potential adversaries are plunging into. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin (Russia) and Xi Jinping (China) are hoisting respectively glasses of vodka and plum wine.
Let me be clear on this issue. I admire those Google employees who voiced their conscience about the military, some by quitting the company. But to exclude Google from doing work with the DOD places handcuffs on not just Google, but America’s defense industry.
Reasonable people wish all nations did not need to spend their precious resources on the military. But the behavior of deadly despots is part of the human condition. We got rid of murderous dictators in North Africa and parts of the Middle East. Before that time, we got rid of Noriega in Panama; before that…on and on. They are akin to weeds. Once cut down in one place, they will spring up in another. (Source: Human history.)
Far beyond the lives of you and me, I believe we humans will remove pathological aggression from our DNA. But for now, back to the issue of America’s evil military.
A few weeks ago, I watched Russia celebrate its World War II success with its annual Victory Parade on Red Square (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0dA2Mr9YB8) and see the accompanying figure). A few years ago, I visited Red Square and watched a less-elaborate display of Russia’s military, but it was still a parade showing massive military might.
Obviously, this photo shows the army. My point in this article is that a likely equal or larger number of Russians (and other countries) are actively involved in building offensive and defensive military drones. You think President Trump’s July 4 speech was military-oriented, take a look at this YouTube presentation. Watch all of it: Trump is a military-display-piker.
Putin, a frustrated and cunning operative, remains deeply disturbed by the demise of the former USSR — not to mention the western world’s duplicity in bringing about the acquiescence of Gorbachev in the dismantling of the Soviet empire. Putin is nowhere close to reconciliation; quite the opposite.
For the well-meaning Google employees, again, I admire your idealism. I also regret your naiveté. Nonetheless, for the Google cancellation of a DOD project, pressured by employees who consider the U.S. military as evil, I draw the line in the sand against these ill-informed people. Until human aggression goes away (don’t hold your breath), there will be a need for a military defense against the dangerous despots in our race.
Should employees dictate a company’s policy? Certainly, personnel input is vital to a company’s health. However, for this instance, it’s the tail wagging the dog.
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Uyless Black of Coeur d’Alene is the author of “Digital Societies and the Internet: What the Present is Bringing to the Future.” It is available at Amazon.com.