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Defense Department Is Using Google's AI Tech to Help With Drone Surveillance

A drone flies as an airplane is seen in the background FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP Contributor AFP/Getty Images

Google is helping the military use artificial intelligence to analyze video from drones to more quickly identify objects like trucks.

The deal is part of the Defense Department’s Project Maven initiative to use technology and automation to sift through huge amounts of data, according to tech publication Gizmodo, which reported on the partnership on Tuesday.

A Google goog spokesperson confirmed to Fortune that the search giant is working with the Defense Department and said that the company has “long worked with government agencies to provide technology solutions.” The spokesperson added that Google’s technology “flags images for human review, and is for non-offensive uses only.”

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Anonymous Google employees expressed concern in the Gizmodo article that Google is helping the U.S. government improve drone surveillance operations and that the project highlights “important ethical questions about the development and use of machine learning.” The Google spokesperson acknowledged that the “military use of machine learning naturally raises valid concerns.”

“We’re actively discussing this important topic internally and with others as we continue to develop policies and safeguards around the development and use of our machine learning technologies,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

As part of the partnership, the Defense Department is using Google’s free, open source TensorFlow software, used by developers to create powerful software that rely on machine-learning and can quickly recognize objects in photos like cats. For this project, the Google spokesperson said that the military would only use the technology to recognize images “on unclassified data.”

In July, the Defense Department described Project Maven as an initiative to explore how cutting-edge AI technologies could eventually be used in warfare.

“People and computers will work symbiotically to increase the ability of weapon systems to detect objects,” Marine Corps Col. Drew Cukor said in a statement. “Eventually we hope that one analyst will be able to do twice as much work, potentially three times as much, as they’re doing now. That’s our goal.”

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The Defense Department had said that it would be undergoing “a competitive selection process to find vendors that can provide algorithms against DoD data.”

“You don’t buy AI like you buy ammunition,” Cukor said. “There’s a deliberate workflow process and what the department has given us with its rapid acquisition authorities is an opportunity for about 36 months to explore what is governmental and [how] best to engage industry [to] advantage the taxpayer and the warfighter, who wants the best algorithms that exist to augment and complement the work he does.”

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