A U.S. Air Force Global Hawk UAV, used for near-real time reconnaissance. | Source: DoD photos, John Schwab | Cropped and Resized.

In March, a contact obtained by Gizmodo revealed that Google is using AI technology to assist military drones. Known as Project Maven, it uses image recognition to assist analysts and enable better identification of objects.

A number of Google employees resigned, and chief executive Diane Greene assured those remaining that it was worth a measly $9 million. Reports now suggest that figure was not entirely forthcoming.

According to emails obtained by The Intercept, Google’s business development arm expected the revenue to grow from the initial $15 million to $250 million a year.

“Total deal $25-$30M, $15M to Google over the next 18 months,” said Google’s Cloud head scientist Dr. Fei-Fei Li. The chain also features Aileen Black and Scott Frohman, members of Google’s defense sales team. It took place in September on 2017.

The figures line up with a Bloomberg report of a $100 million government funding pledge a month after the initial contract. The email chain also reveals that several other big tech firms vied for the contract, including Amazon’s AWS, which has “some workloads”. It’s not clear if Microsoft was involved at this time, but it is a major cloud and AI player.

Not For Offensive Purposes

Project Maven appears to be linked to the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), which is worth a further $1 billion a year. Previous reports say Google was interested in the program.

However, Google holds that its technology is not for offensive purposes. In fact, Hynes says this is a crucial part of the contract. The new email chain makes it clear that this misconception was a major concern for the company.

“This is red meat to the media to find all ways to damage Google. You probably heard Elon Musk and his comment about AI causing WW3,” said Fei-Fei. “I don’t know what would happen if the media starts picking up a theme that Google is secretly building AI weapons or AI technologies to enable weapons for the Defense industry.”

The team also spoke about the need to set the “narrative” as quickly as possible. Black noted that the news would get out eventually and that it would be best for Google to release it on its own terms. The company is now seeing the value of that advice after the eventual leak in March.