Sunday, May 26, 2024

Google Employees Protest $1.2 Billion Project Nimbus Deal with Israel

HomeWARGoogle Employees Protest $1.2 Billion Project Nimbus Deal with Israel

Sundar Pichai’s words carried a chill. Google’s CEO issued an ominous warning to the internet behemoth’s workforce – stifle the protests over the company’s $1.2 billion cloud computing deal with Israel or risk being fired.

His stark admonition came after Google terminated 28 employees and arrested 9 more for disruptive behavior related to last week’s sit-ins at offices in New York City and Sunnyvale, California. Employees there had staged rowdy rallies decrying Project Nimbus, a controversial contract to provide advanced AI capabilities and data analytics to Israeli authorities.

The unrest exposed an insurrection brewing within the rank-and-file at Google, Amazon, and other tech titans over the specter of their cutting-edge innovations being weaponized in Israel’s bloody military assault on Gaza.

“We were arrested for speaking out against the use of our technology to power the first AI-powered genocide,” defied Mohammad Khatami, a fired Google software engineer, in an interview after his release.

Unchecked AI Firepower in Gaza’s Smoking Rubble

What precisely does Khatami mean by “AI-powered genocide”? As the Palestinian death toll mounts over 34,000 – the vast majority civilians – in Israel’s 7-month offensive, academics and human rights monitors have sounded alarms over how artificial intelligence and big data could be turbocharging the violence.

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According to reports, Project Nimbus grants Israeli forces ability to leverage Google’s neural networks for a range of potentially destructive applications: facial recognition software to surveil and track Palestinian citizens, machine learning algorithms to digest troves of captured biometric data, and AI modeling to map out and pinpoint bombing targets amidst Gaza’s dense urban landscapes.

“Data for the Israeli governments, of course, is likely to extend to the Israeli military,” warns Ramesh Srinivasan, a professor at UCLA studying societal impacts of AI. “So it’s a project that highlights how big US technology companies directly aid and abet the Israeli government’s actions.”

International legal scholars have cautioned such unfettered AI capabilities could easily violate laws of armed conflict and rules of engagement if deployed indiscriminately. But full transparency around Project Nimbus’ scope has been lacking from the notoriously secretive tech giants.

“There’s actually a shocking lack of transparency,” Srinivasan told Al Jazeera. “Outside of interoperable, comprehensive cloud computing services…we know little else that this covers.”

Google has maintained the contract is not for “highly sensitive, classified, or military workloads relevant to weapons or intelligence services.” Yet the torrent of disturbing reportage from Gaza’s shattered streets – kids’ corpses, eviscerated hospitals, burnt-out homes – undercuts such ethical disavowals of military applications.

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Rights Groups Accuse Israel of ‘Genocidal Intent’

Amidst the devastation, a landmark United Nations case is now investigating whether the Israeli Defense Forces’ tactics have crossed into territory of genocide under international law.

The proceedings at the World Court in The Hague follow a lawsuit by Palestinian authorities accusing Israel of systematically attacking civilians and critical infrastructure with genocidal intent. Over three bloody days in March, UN investigators documented 18 Palestinian families completely eliminated in a series of strikes on residential buildings.

“We have strong evidence that the actions of Israel have been motivated by an intent to destroy the Palestinians in Gaza in whole or in part,” said Valentina Azarova, an international human rights lawyer presenting the Palestinian case in The Hague.

For tech employees in places like Mountain View and Seattle, the horrors unfolding play out in stark visceral reality across their ubiquitous work terminals and device screens. Haunting social media posts capture the bombed-out hospitals, the anguished victims being dug from rubble, the trauma surgeons operating by flashlight.

“It’s impossible to feel excited about coming to the office knowing the company you work for arms those dropping these bombs,” said Tina Vachovsky, a senior engineer at Google, in a statement on the No Tech for Apartheid website. “We reject being conscripted into digital warfare against a gloriously resilient but subjugated people.”

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Internal Insurrections Across Big Tech

Workers at Alphabet, Amazon, Meta, and other tech titans are no longer idly standing by as their elite AI skills and data-crunching innovations get conscripted to power potent digital battlefields. Internal revolts have erupted across campuses in Silicon Valley, Seattle, and New York over various military contracts with Israel and other nations engaged in bloody conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Tech workers are demanding transparency and the ability to understand exactly how their labor is being weaponized,” argues Professor Srinivasan. “They question if building these technologies for hostile militaries is truly ethical when their use could target and demean human life at scale.”

With global scrutiny intensifying, and Gaza’s soaring death tallies shown in full fidelity each night on the broadcast networks, the tech elite’s relationship with untrammeled warfare could be facing an ethical reckoning. One where the enlightened coder, data scientist, and neural net architect may no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the real-world impacts of their powerful innovations.

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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