An ‘arms race’ around lethal autonomous weapons would cause widespread instability, warn founders of robotics and AI companies
More than one hundred pioneers in robotics and artificial intelligence have called on the United Nations to ban the development and use of weapons capable of acting autonomously – effectively, killer robots.
The list of 116 founders of companies in 26 countries specialising in robotics and artifical intelligence includes Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tesla Motor, as well as Mustafa Suleyman, founder of DeepMind, the British machine learning company acquired by Google in 2014.
In an open letter the specialists urged the UN to act to “prevent an arms race” around autonomous weapons and avoid their “destabilising effects”.
The signatories argue lethal autonomous weapons could become a “third revolution” in warfare, following the spread of gunpowder and nuclear arms.
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” they wrote, warning the devices could be misused by despots, terrorists and hackers.
“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close,” the letter states.
The company founders involved said they feel “especially responsible in raising the alarm” since the technologies they develop could be “re-purposed” for use in killer machines.
The UN recently voted to begin formal discussions on a ban of automated weapons including drones, tanks and machine guns, with an initial meeting scheduled for Monday at the beginning of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Melbourne.
That meeting has now been rescheduled for November, and the signatories urged those involved to “double their efforts” at the event.
The signatories want lethal autonomous weapons to be added to the list of arms banned under the UN’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), dating from 1983, which includes chemical and blinding laser weapons.
“We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations,” the letter states.
Tesla’s Musk, Cambridge scientist Stephen Hawking and others have repeatedly warned that artificial intelligences could ultimately pose an extistential threat to humanity.
Autonomous weapons, however, are in existence today and could potentially be broadly deployed within years, something their critics argue could lower the threshhold for conflicts.
Musk, Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and hundreds of others called for a ban on AI weapons on the occasion of the IJCAI’s meeting in 2015, which helped push the UN into the current talks.
At the time a pro-business US group, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), called Bill Gates, Musk and Hawking “innovation killers” for their efforts.
Current autonomous weapons include Samsung’s SGR-A1 machine gun, developed for the South Korean government and in use along the Demilitarised Zone in the Korean peninsula, BAE’s in-development Taranis drone, robotic tanks under development by the US and Russian governments, the Sea Hunter unmanned warship under development by the US’ Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Boeing’s autonomous Echo Voyager submarines, which are being considered for military use.
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