Stephanie Rugoff, Marc Eliot Stein, Richie Marini, Nick Mottern and Janet Yip pose after leafleting Google employees at its New York City office, June 27, 2018.
On Wednesday, June 27, 2018, I was one of five anti-war workers who went to Google’s mammoth office in New York City to hand out flyers (see below) to Google employees as they went to work, praising the 3,000 + Google workers who pushed the company to stop building the killing technology of the Maven project and urging all Google workers to intensify the pressure on their bosses to get their company completely out of military contracting.
Probably only 20 % percent of those whom we approached took a flyer, but the Google work force in the building numbers about 2,000, and after 2 ½ hours we had given out 500 flyers, having run out once and having to get more printed. We had a few brief conversations with curious, friendly employees. At least three said they were among those who signed the 3,000+ letter to the bosses. We also got a few nods of approval and thumbs up.
But for the most part, the Google workers, largely in their 20’s and 30’s, often wearing Google gear - headphones, backpacks and T-shirts - strode swiftly and purposefully past us, anxiously bee-lining for the front door, heads down, eyes ahead, not wishing to give the faintest indication that they saw or heard us as we asked them if they want to flyer.
This may be everyday behavior for them, but it was disturbing to see so many people who were like automatons, possibly energized and guided by the contents of their nearly identically small, black rectangular backpacks, with or without Google logos.
It was particularly striking how many of them were wearing headphones or ear buds, far more than I have observed in the general population.
Before undertaking the leafleting we had an internal debate about the value of doing it since Google had already said it would drop Maven. In an email discussing this, Richie Marini, of the national office staff of World Can’t Wait (WCW), quite well explains why we went ahead:
“I personally have no hesitation in doing such an outreach action as it's just that, outreach. It's just about letting like-minded people know there are other like-minded people out there they can connect with in a variety of ways. Even if it just means a few more people knowing about the https://www.knowdrones.com/ website, they may check in on that site now and again and/or share that site. It's just more eyes and ears pointed our way -- even if it's just one more connection. Eventually each of those one-off connections turn into a communication web in which information can travel. When the number of connections reaches some critical value -- things (such as action) can then emerge.”
When we ran out of leaflets at about 10 am, we packed the drone model back into my car and talked over what we had just experienced and whether it was worthwhile. We all agreed we were glad we had been there. In spite of the rejection of the majority of the workers, we felt our outreach was worthwhile because of the encouragement of the minority of the workers, and the seeming tension around our message. We opined that there would be plenty of talking about the flyer inside the building.
At the end of our sidewalk debriefing, Janet Yip, from Refuse Fascism, summed up perfectly – we had achieved our goal of calling on people to take personal responsibility for what they are doing.
In addition to Richie, Janet and I, those participating were Stephanie Rugoff, also from the WCW national staff and Marc Eliot Stein, who is on the Coordinating Committee of World Beyond War.
THANK YOU 3,000 + GOOGLE EMPLOYEES who have called on Googles’ leaders to state that “neither Google nor its contractors will ever build warfare technology.” https://static01.nyt.com/files/2018/technology/googleletter.pdf
This led Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene to announce on June 1, 2018 that Google will not seek to continue its work for the Pentagon on Project Maven after the current contract expires in 2019. Maven intends to engage artificial intelligence in analyzing images from drone video cameras, aiding in target selection.
But, there is still a way to go to get Google out of the war business. Google could and should stop Maven work now. And, as far as we know, Google is still competing for the lead Pentagon contract on JEDI (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure) a project that would dramatically expand the Pentagon’s use of cloud computing, particularly in integrating artificial intelligence into military operations. It would be used, for instance, to increase the killing capacity of the U.S. drone war program.
Since 2010, when the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism started keeping track of U.S. drone casualties in 2010, the Bureau reports that U.S. Predator and Reaper drones have killed between 7,584 and 10,918 in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia alone. All were killed without trial, a violation of international law and conscience. U.S. drones have also attacked in Libya, Syria, Iraq and the Philippines and attacks are intensifying dramatically in Afghanistan.
Google is a leader in AI (artificial intelligence) and AI gives drones and other weapons the capability to kill automatically, using facial recognition gear. One might think that removing human pilots from control of killer drones would ease consciences of drone operators. But “The Wounds of the Drone Warrior”, in the June 13, 2018 New York Times, suggests that being responsible for taking a life can have long-lasting, damaging impact on human mental health, regardless of where one sits in the “kill chain”.
Speaking of the remorse of a drone operator, the Times reported:
“’…it’s still weird taking another life,’ he said. Distance did not lessen this feeling. ‘Distance brings it through a screen,’ he said, “but it’s still happening, and it’s happening because of you.”
This, of course, is recognized by those signing the Google petition and the petition of the Tech Workers Coalition, urging that Amazon, Microsoft and IBM employees also take a public position against war-related work. https://www.coworker.org/petitions/tech-should-not-be-in-the-business-of-war
We, who have been working to stop U.S. drone killing and for an international ban on weaponized drones, ask that you:
- Urge Google’s leadership to announce an immediate, complete break with any war-related work.
- Speak in public or release information about your concerns about the human impact of any specific war-related technology on which Google is working.
- Sign the petitions of Coalition of Tech Workers and World Beyond War. https://worldbeyondwar.org/thank-you-to-google-employees-who-reject-the-business-of-war/
Thank you again for taking a stand against technology that will dramatically increase killing in war.
Nick Mottern – Coordinator – Knowdrones.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Marc Eliot Stein – Coordinating Committee, World Beyond War
Debra Sweet – Director, and Richie Marini, National Office Staff - World Can’t Wait email@example.com
"The catastrophe of this war has proved the sensitivity of the system of modern civilization evolved in the course of centuries. Now we know that we do not live in an earth-quake-proof structure. The build-up of negative impulses, each reinforcing the other, can inexorably shake to pieces the complicated apparatus of the modern world. There is no halting this process by will alone. The danger is that the automation of progress will depersonalize man further and withdraw more and more of his self-responsibility.
"Dazzled by the possibilities of technology, I devoted crucial years of my life to serving it. But in the end my feelings about it are highly skeptical.” - Albert Speer, chief of Nazi weapons industry, in his memoir Inside the Third Reich.