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Google and Project Maven (B): An Eventful Week in June

Published 30 Jul 2018
Reference 6408
Region North America
popular
Prizes & Awards

Winner 2018 EFMD Case Writing Competition, Responsible Leadership

Summary

In April 2018, after it became known that Google was collaborating with the US Department of Defense on Project Maven, over 3,000 employees signed an internal memo asking CEO Sundar Pichai to (a) cancel the project immediately, and (b) enforce a policy stating that the company would never build warfare technology. Project Maven had been launched in early 2017 as part of the DoD’s efforts to integrate AI and machine learning into its defense strategies. Drones, robots and AI were increasingly deployed in intelligence gathering and combat operations in what was considered a 21st century “arms race.” While Google described its role as “non-offensive,” the memo argued that involvement in Project Maven might hurt its reputation and ability to attract talent at a time when public trust in technology was waning. The case puts students in the shoes of a recent hire faced with the choice of signing the memo. It also invites them to consider how they would respond, as CEO, to such a petition against one of the company’s contracts.

Teaching objectives

The purpose of the case is not necessarily to debate the merits of collaboration between private and public sector. Rather, it asks students to reflect on their opportunities and obligations as citizens and leaders of companies and society when pursuing innovation. As companies increasingly attract talent with the promise of work that has personal meaning and allow individuals to make a positive difference in the world, nothing is “just business.” This trend brings to the surface ethical and practical dilemmas at the social, organizational, and personal level. The case offers an opportunity to explore all three levels, touching on the relationship between business and government, the responsibility of a global organization and its leaders, and the expression, encouragement, and management of debate and dissent.

Keywords
  • Responsible Leadership
  • Ethics
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Digital disruption
  • Google
  • Project Maven
  • Drones
  • Public Private Partnership
  • Corporate Social Responsibility
  • Ethical dilemma
  • Sundar Pichai
  • US Department of Defense
  • Don’t be Evil
  • Larry Page
  • Q41718