How a Pentagon contract became an identity crisis for Google

Dr. Li’s concern about the implications of military contracts for Google has proved prescient. The company’s relationship with the Defense Department since it won a share of the contract for the Maven program, which uses artificial intelligence to interpret video images and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes, has touched off an existential crisis, according to emails and documents reviewed by The Times as well as interviews with about a dozen current and former Google employees.

It has fractured Google’s work force, fueled heated staff meetings and internal exchanges, and prompted some employees to resign. The dispute has caused grief for some senior Google officials, including Dr. Li, as they try to straddle the gap between scientists with deep moral objections and salespeople salivating over defense contracts.

“Don’t be evil” and drone strikes simply don’t mix. There’s not much more to it, and it makes perfect sense that Google employees are having issues with this. How Google handles this will mark an important turning point for the company.


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