back to article Register Lecture: Right to strike when your boss sells AI to the military?

AI is revolutionising our roads, workplaces, homes – and warfare. And not everybody is happy about it. 2018 saw 3,000 Googlers protest against their company’s participation in a US Department of Defense project - Maven - using TensorFlow to build a computer-vision system for drones to identify humans. Googlers told CEO Sundar …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Oh. come ON!

    When did the first commercial company discover that it could make more money by selling to the military as well? 5,000 BC maybe?

    When did the first pacifist quit their job in such a company? 4,999 BC maybe?

    When did the first pacifist think they could refuse to work on those products but still keep their frikkin' job? 2018 AD maybe?

    Oh, come ON!

    The way to control the military is through the political ballot box.

    Googly downvotes may be placed below.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Oh. come ON!

      Easy with that word 'pacifist'.

      You can support the troops while protesting the war.

    2. NoneSuch

      The Eternal Cycle Continues...

      Drones kill people, without trial or in some cases without any evidence of wrong doing. Their family members get angry and seek revenge. Farmer waiting at the side of the road waiting for his cousin to pick him up, drone pilot see a suspected ISIS member planting a road side bomb. *blam* Wedding party in progress, drone pilot sees suspected terrorist gathering. *blam*

      Terror levels rise when those folks get tired of the murder and start shooting back. More drones are fielded to combat the rise in hostilities, etc. etc.

      In the meantime, corporations get mega-wealthy supplying flying instruments of death, while normal people pay the price.

      The Americans kill more people annually than all terrorist organizations combined, and by a wide margin. Arrogance tempered with ignorance and funded with greed.

  2. boltar Silver badge

    A conscience is a fine thing

    But naivety helps no one. The military will use AI with or without your companies help and if you're part of the solution then perhaps you can guide the way its used whereas if you simply throw your toys out the pram they'll go elsewhere perhaps to somewhere less ethical. So what have you achieved other than making yourself feel virtuous?

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      If you find yourself working on a project with which you don't agree you should be able to ask to work on something else. If that isn't possible then a change of employer might be required.

      Don't think it really matters whether this "dual use" military stuff or, say, genetic sequencing for the cosmetic industry, etc.

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

        It's not the military, corporate entities, political system, or the government of the day that's the problem - we are the people who pay them, fund them, think that they have all the answers, and vote them into office.

    2. MrMerrymaker

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      I don't see why under any circumstances I should involve myself. I accept they might do it anyway, but why tarnish myself?

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: A conscience is a fine thing

        "I don't see why under any circumstances I should involve myself. I accept they might do it anyway, but why tarnish myself?"

        Thats obviously your decision, but if you work for an employer who wants to then you should just leave rather than trying to force the company not to do it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      You mean, like if we're told to make pr0n, we should try and make it more tasteful, to lessen the chance of people being objectified?

    4. smudge Silver badge

      Re: A conscience is a fine thing

      if you simply throw your toys out the pram

      I don't think that exercising personal ethics is "throwing your toys out of the pram".

      A long time ago, I used to work - in information security - for a deceased UK systems house. This gave me opportunities to work right across the company's client base, from commercial clients to government and defence. I always refused to work on weapons systems, but I did work on things like command & control and logistics systems. Some would say that they are just as much an essential part of the killing machine as the pointy things that go bang - I understand that, but that's where my boundaries were at that time.

      I also refused to go to countries such as Saudi Arabia. Partly because I thought they were corrupt dictatorships, and partly because there is no way I was going to a place like that as a security consultant. Events over the years - including recent events in Turkey and in the UAE - have confirmed that. (For balance, I'd probably have said the same about Israel, if that had ever come up.)

      Now I have no idea whether companies nowadays tolerate such behaviour from their staff. It was certainly less likely in my company by the time I retired...

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: A conscience is a fine thing

        "For balance, I'd probably have said the same about Israel, if that had ever come up."

        Hardly balanced. For all its faults Isreal is a democracy. Thats not something you can accuse Saudi Arabia of. There are far worse countries human rights wise in that region than isreal, but then they're not jewish states so their actions don't get the anti semites worked up.

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Commswonk Silver badge

      Re: Iraq

      You forgot the <euphemism> </euphemism> tags in your post.

  4. Jay Lenovo
    Paris Hilton

    That personal touch

    AI killing is so cold and methodical.

    I guess we would prefer the operation to be more "warm and fuzzy".

    The type of killing, great grandpa used to make.

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: That personal touch

      The type of killing, great grandpa used to make.

      That depends who is grandpa. AI is not by any means the first attempt at Cold and Methodical.

      I can speak for myself - Mine died in the skies above Europe fighting the ones who were on the side of the "Cold and Methodical". Prior to that he fought them over Spain too.

      My wive's grandpa died on the ground when the "Cold and Methodical" decided that some "obscure Balkan untermench" with no combat experience armed with mix of surplus, leftovers and museum exhibits from both allies and axis" will be a pushover. To be more specific he was one of the ones who stopped the "Cold and Methodical" group E from that event.

      Yeah, I know unpopular activities - standing your ground against Cold and Methodical in this day and age. We are now supposed to cheer the cold and methodical(*).

      Our grandparents are probably spinning in their graves at 10k RPM...

      So frankly, we have been here before. Trusting the business of terminating people to Cold and Methodical is something we all know. We know where it ends up. It is a lucky day that it will end up with only 40M graves mark the success of people against Cold and Methodical. So frankly, this should be human business. No "Cold and Methodical". AI or not.

      (*) If you are wondering about the link - see the non-regulation insignia on the 3rd paratrooper first line counting right to left. Compare to the "Cold and Methodical".

  5. Chairman of the Bored Silver badge

    This is meta

    Obviously at 15 quid a ticket this conference is not profiting from war like Boeing, BAE, Thales, Microsoft, etc. But another day, another dollar, eh? Call it a second order effect. Not only do people profit from war, we profit from complaining about war. Ain't humanity great?

  6. 10forcash

    It's not a real conflict unless humans are at risk on both sides eh?

    Just to even things up, I suppose we should fight ethical wars where all sides have equal armament, resources and training so the real skill of winning comes down to tactics not technology and / or finances.

  7. devTrail


    All this story seems just a big hypocritical show to let people forget their impact on the political and economic system in the "peaceful" developed world.

  8. Ledswinger Silver badge

    When did the first pacifist think they could refuse to work on those products but still keep their frikkin' job? 2018 AD maybe?

    When you think about all the non-dedicated military stuff that goes into (say) the fully supply and logistics chain for drones, half the population are already involved. Making some broad guesses in a UK context: If you do payroll at Capita you could be paying drone operators, if you do fuel buying at Serco you're maintaining the fuel supply for drones, if you work at a precision metal rolling company you're making the metal that becomes the shims in the drone, and the aircraft that get it out to the warzone; If you work for a tyre maker you could be making tyres for military vehicles of all types, likewise hydraulic hose making, electrical cables, actuators, etc etc etc.

    The mistake Google have made is to promote a sanctimonious corporate image (all that "do no evil" bilge"), and then to actively recruit young, shiney eyed idealists who think that offices contain ping pong tables, bean bags, free fruit and coffee, and actually believed all that claptrap. Now they're taking offence, because they do want to be part of a strong global nation that is able and willing to project lethal force, but the poor lambs at Google had believed that somebody else (probably paid a lot less, and wearing a grubby blue collar) would have to get their hands dirty.

    Welcome to the real world, Googleywoogleys.

  9. 10forcash

    Maybe we've been under an illusion about Google, purely due to a typo

    It's not 'Do No Evil'

    the correct version is:-

    'Do Know Evil'

    Paraphrased from a CMT patch I saw somewhere sandy a good few years ago ;-)

  10. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    In UK - No

    Right to strike when your boss sells AI to the military?

    Thatcher took care of it after the BAE strike to prevent Pinochet to get some toys. You are not allowed to say NAE PASARAN any more. Even if your employer takes a contract to supply Boer War style concentration camp equipment. For example something to implement the ordinance of the council of ministers of a particular government we support dated 8th on November for the "mandatory internment of national minorities from war zones for their own safety (*)". You cannot strike on that. You can quit, but you cannot strike.

    Dunno about the rest of the world. France is definitely yes, Germany probably a yes too though they hardly need to go that far, the reps on the boards tend to take care of stuff like that. USA - probably depends on state quite a bit. As they say YMMV

    (*)As this is one of the languages I can read, but do not have native fluency in, I will not translate it. I do understand the language well enough to guarantee the contents though - it is exactly that. A cut-n-paste from Stalin's "Chechen Management" programme improved by taking into account the similar efforts of Brits to manage Boers and Americans to manage the Japanese.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In UK - No

      I came here to mention the boys from Glasgow, thanks for doing the same.

      From a practical point of view, In general I think it's probably better to allow workers to openly object rather than souring an otherwise good employer-employee relationship or risking sabotage.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: In UK - No

      > the "mandatory internment of national minorities from war zones for their own safety (*)".

      Err... the document you have linked does not say anything at all about internment of national minorities. It deals with the eventual evacuation of people who are already in detention (convicts and prisoners) from areas controlled by the so-called secessionist groups, or otherwise sensitive areas, into Ukraine proper.

      However, it appears that they have reached some sort of compromise now:

      Careful with that misinformation, the boys on both sides are flinging propaganda in all directions (while the rest of the population, also on both sides, couldn't care less one way or another). :-)

  11. cfaber

    Strike unless


  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I prefer a nice game of chess, personally.

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