Project Maven: The Pentagon Deal that Divided a Titan


“We are in an AI arms race, and it’s happening in industry, in the Big Five” — Drew Cukor, Chief of the Algorithmic Warfare Cross Function Team

What Is Project Maven?

Stamped April 26 2017, a memorandum released by the Deputy Security of Defense states that the Department of Defense “needs to do much more, and move much faster … to take advantage of recent and future advances in [artificial intelligence, big data, and deep learning].” The goal of this memorandum is to resolve this need by establishing a team for this express purpose.

Dubbed Project Maven, the team was established by former Deputy Security of Defense Robert Work. Officially, it is named the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team, and the AWCFT’s goal is to make advancements in the DoD’s Artificial Intelligence. These innovations in A.I. would contribute to analyzing the data that the Department of Defense has collected in their search for ISIS. Much of this collected information would be considered Big data, or large data sets, and are too time consuming to process with the technology currently in place.

Where Do the Drones Come In?

Later in the memorandum, Work states that, “The AWCFT's first task is to field technology to augment or automate Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (PED) for tactical Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) and Midaltitude Full-Motion Video (FMV) in support of the Defeat-ISIS Campaign.” One of the main focuses of this project is Computer Vision which, like deep learning, is also an aspect of A.I.

It involves programming “methods for acquiring, processing, analyzing and understanding digital images, and extraction of high-dimensional data from the real world in order to produce numerical or symbolic information, e.g., in the forms of decisions.” Essentially, this means that the video recorded by military drones would be processed through this new A.I. in search of objects of interest.

What About Google?

According to defense.gov, Project Maven had intentions of partnering with “industry, academia and national laboratories to develop and deploy artificial intelligence-based algorithms against some of DoD’s toughest challenges.” Google signed a contract with the Pentagon to be brought on as one of the developers of this advanced A.I. However, this decision was criticized, and much of the backlash was internal. Their employees were not comfortable with the idea of developing innovative technology that could be used for the weaponization of drones. Thus, they began to protest. They released a petition with well over 3,000 signatures.

Because of this backlash and the negative press it has cultivated, Google announced earlier this year that they would not renew their contract. The news surrounding this series of events has brought to light conversations we will soon be having about the ethical incorporation of A.I. into defense. In the past, our country has had similar conversations surrounding ethics and the militarization of technology. As the world becomes more globalized and competitive, we may be having this conversation more often.

I am a writer and an artist based in Georgia. Specializing in illustration, graphic design, and video art, I love to explore the new ways technology intersects with art. I think drones have done amazing things for photography and video art, making what would previously be costly and difficult more accessible. As a complete novice, it was only recently that I saw what independent artists could do with their drones, and I continue to be impressed by the sights that drones are able to explore and the images they can capture. Instagram: @tyesha.ferron

#dronedefense #ProjectMaven

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