Report: After acquisition, Apple nixed Xnor.ai’s work on Pentagon’s Project Maven

The Xnor.ai team gets scanned by the company’s person-detection technology in 2017. (Xnor.ai Photo)

The Information reports that Seattle-based Xnor.ai played a role in the Pentagon’s controversial Project Maven, but that Apple ended Xnor.ai’s involvement in the project after acquiring the startup.

  • Project Maven is aimed at using artificial intelligence software to analyze imagery captured by military surveillance drones. It’s been the subject of protests by tech workers, most notably at Google, where objections from employees led the company to forgo further work on the project after its contract expired last year. Palantir, the surveillance company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Peter Thiel, reportedly stepped in to fill the void.
  • Using AI to identify objects in images is one of the prime applications for Xnor.ai’s edge-based AI platform. The company developed a standalone chip that could do “person detection” while requiring so little power that it could run off a coin-sized battery for decades. The technology can also be integrated into smartphones and other mobile devices, which is almost certainly why Apple acquired Xnor.ai for a price in the range of $200 million.
  • The Information quoted an unnamed source as saying Xnor.ai had worked on Project Maven in conjunction with another AI startup called Clarifai. That work has now been terminated, the source said. Such a decision would be consistent with Apple’s focus on commercial rather than military applications, as well as its concerns about security and privacy. For what it’s worth, Apple has declined to discuss the Xnor.ai acquisition or what it’s doing with the company’s technology.

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