Google tricked low-paid workers into developing AI for controversial military drones: Report

By Digit NewsDesk | Published on Feb 06 2019
Google tricked low-paid workers into developing AI for controversial military drones: Report

The workers had no idea they were contributing to Project Maven, the Pentagon’s AI-assisted military drone.

Make your home smarter than the average home

Make your life smarter, simpler, and more convenient with IoT enabled TVs, speakers, fans, bulbs, locks and more.

Click here to know more


  • Google reportedly tricked online workers into developing AI for a controversial drone project.
  • The drone project is undertaken by the Pentagon and is called Project Maven.
  • The AI being built helps the system distinguish between objects on the ground.


It appears Google has been using its services to assist more than just its end users. According to a recent report by TheIntercept, Google has been feeding the Pentagon data to help build a controversial drone that can distinguish between certain objects on the ground. The data fed is reportedly the combined effort of millions of workers that Google hired from a company called Figure Eight, which is a machine learning company that "transforms unstructured text, image, audio, and video data into customized high-quality training data" for AI. The workers had no idea they were indirectly contributing to the Pentagon’s drone project.

The data collected by Google comes from a working model called human-in-the-loop, where workers online, who earn as little as $1 per hour, help machine learning algorithms distinguish between real-world objects and understand the environment better. The tasks for which Google hired these workers involved labelling objects in satellite images to help AI tell the difference between objects like trees, buildings, vehicles, etc. This data was then reportedly fed to the Pentagon and incorporated into Project Maven, the Department of Defense initiative involving the use of military drones.

Project Maven has been at the centre of a controversy for a year now. In April last year, over 3,100 Google employees signed a petition demanding that Google stop assisting the Pentagon with the project. They presented it to the company’s CEO, Sundar Pichai. A couple of months later, Google announced that it would not renew its contract with the government because of “internal pressure”, which meant the contract would end sometime in 2019. The real rub in all of this is that the workers who helped build the AI system were not informed of the Pentagon’s or Google’s plans. They had no idea what they were helping build.

“Contributors to the Figure Eight platform are not given who the data will benefit. Usually, they are given a reason for why they are doing a task, like, ‘Draw boxes around a certain product to help machines recognize it,’ but they are not given the company that receives the data,” a former Figure Eight contributor had said in a statement to TechSpot. The online tech publication also reports that it has yet to receive a comment from Google or Figure Eight on the matter. In any case, it seems like a case of foul play by the US government and the American search engine giant.

Related Read: Google outlines three actions for better internet safety of netizens

Digit NewsDesk

The guy who answered the question 'What are you doing?' with 'Nothing'.

Digit caters to the largest community of tech buyers, users and enthusiasts in India. The all new Digit in continues the legacy of as one of the largest portals in India committed to technology users and buyers. Digit is also one of the most trusted names when it comes to technology reviews and buying advice and is home to the Digit Test Lab, India's most proficient center for testing and reviewing technology products.

We are about leadership-the 9.9 kind! Building a leading media company out of India.And,grooming new leaders for this promising industry.