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Former US Defense Official Questions Google’s Morality

Google announced earlier this month that it would not renew its contract for Project Maven

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'Doodle 4 Google' can get you Rs 5 lakh scholars
'Doodle 4 Google' can get you Rs 5 lakh scholarship.VOA
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A former top U.S. Defense Department official is questioning the morality of Google’s decision not to renew a partnership with the Pentagon.

“I believe the Google employees have created a moral hazard for themselves,” former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work said Tuesday.

Google announced earlier this month that it would not renew its contract for Project Maven, after 13 employees resigned and more than 4,600 employees signed a petition objecting to their work being used for warfare.

Project Maven seeks to use artificial intelligence, or AI, to help detect and identify images captured using drones.

Many of the Google employees who objected to the project cited Google’s principle of ensuring its products are not used to do harm. But Work, who served as deputy defense secretary from 2014 through July 2017, described Google’s thinking as short-sighted. “It might wind up with us taking a shot, but it could easily save lives” he told an audience at the Defense One Tech Summit in Washington.

Work also described Google as hypocritical, given the company’s endeavors with other countries, such as China. “Google has opened an AI [artificial intelligence] center in China,” he said. “Anything that’s going on in the AI center in China is going to the Chinese government and then will ultimately end up in the hands of the Chinese military.”

The Pentagon’s Project Maven was approved under Work’s watch in 2016 had an initial budget of about $70 million. Google officials had told employees the company was earning less than $10 million, though the deal could lead to additional work.

Current military officials have declined to comment on Google’s decision to not renew the contract, explaining the tech giant is not the main contractor.

“It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the relationship between a prime and sub-prime contractor holder,” Pentagon spokeswoman, Maj. Audricia Harris told VOA in an email.

“We value all of our relationships with academic institutions and commercial companies involved with Project Maven,” she added. “Partnering with the best universities and commercial companies in the world will help preserve the United States’ critical lead in artificial intelligence.” VOA has asked Google for a response, but has received no reply.

While declining to comment directly on Google and Project Maven, the executive director of the Defense Innovation Board said the hope is that, eventually, ethical consideration will push tech companies to work with the military.

“AI [artificlal intelligence] done properly is really, really dangerous,” said Josh Marcuse “We want to work with these companies, these engineers.”

“We are going to have to defend these democracies against adversaries or competitors who see the world every differently,” he said at the same conference in Washington as Work. “I don’t want to show up with a dumb weapon on a smart battlefield.”

But experts say questions of ethics and business viability are likely to continue to plague Google and otherbig tech companies who are asked to work with the Pentagon.

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google. Pixabay

“Their customer base is not just the United States,” said Heather Roff with the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence at the University of Cambridge. “Aiding the U.S. defense industry will potentially hinder their economic success or viability in other countries.”

Still, Paul Scharre, a former Defense Department official who worked on emerging technologies, said he was disappointed by Google’s decision.

“There are weapons companies that build weapons – I understand why Google might not want to be part of that,” said Scharre, now with the Center for a New American Security.

Also read: Google Doodle Celebrates Legendary Indian Artist Gauhar Jaan’s 145th Birth Anniversary

“I don’t think Project Maven crosses the line at all,” he added. “It’s clearly not a weapons technology. It’s helping people better understand the battle space. If you are only worried about civilian and collateral damage that’s only good.” (VOA)

 

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Students Get Amazon Alexa – Electronic Voice-Controlled Assistants in University Campus Housing

It is a good idea for students to get as much experience as possible with the voice assistants to improve their development skills and prepare for future jobs.

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The Alexa Echo Dot devices include the official Saint Louis University logo and are equipped with specific skills to provide information on local events and campus life. VOA
The Alexa Echo Dot devices include the official Saint Louis University logo and are equipped with specific skills to provide information on local events and campus life. VOA

One American university is putting Amazon-electronic voice-controlled assistants in every student housing room on campus.

Saint Louis University recently announced it will equip every student living space with Amazon’s Alexa system. The school in St. Louis, Missouri, will place about 2,300 Echo Dot “smart” devices in all student dorms and other university housing.

Officials said the university will be the first in the world to put the devices in every student living space. The devices and the Alexa service are being provided at no costs to students.

The Amazon Echo is a speaker with the ability to listen and “talk” to users and can perform some operations. The Alexa assistant competes with similar systems made by Google and Apple.

Devices linked to the systems have become increasingly popular in homes in recent years. They can be used for things like looking up information, playing music, ordering food or buying things on the internet. The devices can also complete actions in the home. These include turning lights on and off, and controlling systems for heating and cooling and security.

Amazon calls these different tasks Alexa can perform “skills.”

Amazon said in a website post that Saint Louis University chose the Alexa system after carrying out a test program. The program involved the Echo Dot and a device from a competing company. It said the students had a better reaction to the Alexa system.

The Echo Dots will include a special skill developed especially for Saint Louis University. It will provide information and answer questions about local school activities and campus life.

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In this March 2, 2016, file photo, David Limp, Amazon Senior Vice President of Devices, pushes down on an Echo Dot in San Francisco. VOA

Next year, the university plans to add more personalized skills, such as providing information about classes and grades.

The university said it did not increase student tuition to pay for the project. Instead, officials said, it was financed through the school’s general fund, as well as partnerships with Amazon and n-Powered. The company, based in Los Angeles, California, helped develop the parts of the system that are related to Saint Louis University.

David Hakanson is Saint Louis University’s vice president and chief information officer. In announcing the project, he said it will fit well with students who are “highly driven to achieve success in and out of the classroom.”

He added: “Every minute we can save our students from having to search for the information they need online is another minute that they can spend focused on what matters most: their education.”

While the devices are being placed in every university housing space, students do not have to use them. For those wishing not to take part, the school suggests students just remove the devices from their rooms and put them away in a safe place.

Other universities have also experimented with voice-controlled assistants in student living areas.

A year ago, Arizona State University announced a program that provided Echo Dot devices to a special housing area for engineering students. In the program, all engineering students moving into the special housing community were given the choice of receiving an Echo Dot if they wanted one.

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Bhavik Patel, a mechanical engineering senior and peer mentor at Arizona State’s community housing center Tooker House, demonstrates use of an Amazon Echo Dot while working on formulas. VOA

As is the case at Saint Louis University, Arizona State students are able to use the system to get the latest information on university programs and events. However, the Arizona students also have the chance to sign up for classes that teach subjects related specifically to creating new uses for Alexa devices.

Octavio Heredia is a director with Arizona State’s Fulton Schools of Engineering. He said he thinks it is a good idea for students to get as much experience as possible with the voice assistants to improve their development skills and prepare for future jobs.

Also Read: Google Releases ‘Go Edition of Android 9 Pie’

“Once they are familiar with the devices, they are going to want to further develop their own skills and begin integrating that technology – the hardware and the skills – into other projects,” he said. (VOA)