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Selected Case

published: 28 May 2018

  • Topic: Responsibility
  • Industry: Technology
  • Region: North America

Abstract:
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 21stcentury “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 (A) 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. After outlining what happened in the weeks after the internal controversy was made public, the (B) case raises the question of whether Google had “done the right thing” (its new motto) in discontinuing the project.

Pedagogical Objectives:
The Google and Project Maven case series can be used with MBA and executive audiences in modules on Responsible Leadership, Ethics, and Innovation. The purpose of the case is not necessarily to debate the merits of collaborations between private and public sector, including the military, which are widespread. It aims instead to help students reflect on their roles as citizens and leaders of companies and society—on the opportunities and obligations that come with both, especially when pursuing innovation. More and more companies attract talent with the promise of work that will give them personal meaning and allow them to make a positive difference in the world. Once they do, nothing is “just business”. This 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 themes related to the relationship between business and government, the responsibilities 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

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