Apple: Project Maven and the US Department of Defense? No Go

February 17, 2020

Apple continues to avoid entanglements with the military, we learn from AppleInsider’s brief write-up, “Apple Nixed Xnor.ai’s Involvement in Pentagon’s Project Maven Following Acquisition.” Project Maven’s goal is to develop tech that can autonomously analyze image data from drones and other systems for military intelligence. Though Google famously broke with Maven after employee and public backlash, several private sector companies continue to work with the Pentagon on the project. Xnor.ai was one such company until Apple purchased it early this year. Writer Mikey Campbell reports:

“Spun out of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Xnor.ai focused on low-power, edge-based artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that can run on-device instead of in the cloud. As noted by the report, running AI processes like image recognition on an iPhone instead of offsite — a practice that edge-based computing enables — could raise privacy concerns. Always the bastion of consumer security, Apple likely recognized the implications — and optics — of Xnor.ai’s involvement in Project Maven and terminated the work before the press caught wind of the relationship. Unlike other big tech firms, like Google which pulled out of Project Maven after protests from employees, Apple typically distances itself from military contracting activities.”

Based in Seattle, artificial intelligence firm Xnor.ai was founded in 2016. Perhaps ironically, the company’s focus on running deep learning algorithms locally instead of in the cloud is popular with companies concerned with privacy. Their clients inhabit the aerospace, automotive, retail, and consumer electronics fields.

Cynthia Murrell, February 17, 2020

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