Apple reportedly directed artificial intelligence startup Xnor.ai to cease work on U.S. Department of Defense initiative Project Maven after it acquired the company in January.
Citing people familiar with the matter, The Information on Wednesday reports Xnor.ai was until recently working on Project Maven with fellow startup Clarifai. That ended shortly after Apple bought the Seattle-based Xnor.ai for a reported $200 million this month.
Officially announced in 2017, Project Maven seeks to develop computer vision technologies capable of autonomously analyzing image data captured by military drones and other systems. To achieve its goal, the government is working with a number of private sector specialists as it builds out the technology.
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. The company has in the past supplied devices to various military branches on terms similar or identical to conventional enterprise sales. In 2008, Apple allowed then recently-acquired PA Semi to temporarily continue component supply deals with military equipment makers.