Apple pulls its AI from Pentagon drone program

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A MQ-9 Reaper drone won‘t ever have Apple AI software.
The US Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper can surveillance targets and strike them. Apple apparently doesn’t want any part of that.
Photo: US Air Force

Before Xnor.ai was acquired by Apple, the startup was working with the US military on Project Maven, a controversial Artificial Intelligence project related to drone imagery. That collaboration stopped when Apple purchased the company, according to an unconfirmed report.

Apple out of Project Maven

The Pentagon’s Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team is the real name for Project Maven. It seeks to use artificial intelligence to identify objects and people in the video recorded by drones, saving time for analysts.

Xnor.ai’s specialty is AI software that runs on mobile devices, not in giant server farms. This could potentially enable a military drone to directly identity objects it’s seeing, rather than streaming video to a human analyst for the identification. This would be a step toward machines fighting autonomously.

But Xnor.ai‘s technology has been pulled out of Project Maven, according to The Information.

Apple mostly avoids military contracts

Apple isn’t known for military contracts. The closest it’s gotten is being part of a collection of companies and organizations that teamed up with the Pentagon to develop high-tech wearables for the U.S. military.

The decision to end Xnor.ai’s involvement in Project Maven, assuming the report is accurate, possibly avoided some controversy. Google used to be involved but after protests by employees it pulled out. The company also issued a statement promising that it won’t support the use of AI for weaponized systems.

Apple hasn’t made any promises about not taking military contracts. Still, it seems Xnor.ai’s tech will be used only to improve iPhone’s ability to recognize objects in images, not target combatants on a battlefield.