Google has pledged to no longer build AIs for the fossil fuel industry as it further distances itself from controversial developments.
A report from Greenpeace earlier this month exposed Google as being one of the top three developers of AI tools for the fossil fuel industry. Greenpeace found AI technologies boost production levels by as much as five percent.
In an interview with CUBE’s John Furrier, the leader of Google’s CTO office, Will Grannis, said that Google will “no longer develop artificial intelligence (AI) software and tools for oil and gas drilling operations.”
The pledge from Google Cloud is welcome, but it must be taken in a wider context.
In 2019, Google Cloud’s revenue from oil and gas was approximately $65 million. A hefty sum, but less than one percent of all Google Cloud revenues. Furthermore, Google Cloud’s revenue from oil and gas decreased by about 11 percent despite overall revenue growing by 53 percent.
While Google Cloud’s revenue from the oil and gas industry was declining, the public’s intolerance towards big polluters is increasing. The reputational damage caused to Google of continuing its relationship with polluters would likely have been more costly over the long-term.
This isn’t the first time Google has cut-off an AI-related relationship with a controversial industry to preserve its reputation.
Back in 2018, Google was forced into ending a contract with the Pentagon called Project Maven to build AI technologies for drones. Over 4,000 Google employees signed a petition demanding their management cease the project and never again “build warfare technology.”
Following the Project Maven backlash, Google CEO Sundar Pichai promised in a blog post the company will not develop technologies or weapons that cause harm, or anything which can be used for surveillance violating “internationally accepted norms” or “widely accepted principles of international law and human rights”.
Back in January, Pichai called for sensible AI regulation that does not limit the potential societal benefits.
PAX, a Dutch NGO, ranked Google among the safest companies developing AI while slamming rivals such as Amazon and Microsoft for being among the “highest risk” tech firms in the world.