Agog Over Google, Surveillance and Project Maven

Google HQ
Google HQ, Photo: maglara/123RF

Employees are quitting. Techies are refusing to tech. Hundreds of employees are protesting. More than 3,000 of them signed a petition. Management doesn’t know what to do.

The issue is surveillance. Years ago, Google developed programs that could track your location. Then they developed facial recognition software that they sold to the military who wanted to identify people from camera footage. They also sold it to the CIA, which wanted to identify agents.

Similar software is being developed at Amazon and Microsoft. Amazon’s most recent software is able to identify objects, such as dogs, people and shelves full of Scott tissue. Good for supermarkets. And attack drones. The Amazon software is currently being sold to the police.

But now Google wants their programmers to develop software in a project called Project Maven that would work it all backwards. If its use is expanded beyond the military, a police department could enter a photo of a burglar and the software would locate that person.

A private detective could enter a photograph of a husband and locate him entering the house of his mistress. A hit-and-run driver could be found wherever he is now. And the Google employees say this is going too far. This is the first step down the road to where the robots take over, they say.

Well, how is this different from the way we identify people by pointing at them? “That’s the man,” the woman says of the third man from the right in the police lineup. “Would the witness point to the man who stole her necklace at the party?” the prosecutor would ask the witness. And the woman would point.

This is exactly the same thing, I say, except in the new software’s case it is more accurate.

Robots taking over? Why would they be interested in you or me? As long as we do exactly what they say and stay out of trouble, they won’t bother us. This is a whole lot of nothing.

Did I say that right, X-42?

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