Killer robots must be banned but 'window to act is closing fast', AI expert warns

'Allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom'

Aatif Sulleyman
Monday 13 November 2017 18:35
Film shows dangers of smart drone weapons, from Campaign to Stop Killer Robots

Artificial intelligence experts are calling for a ban on “killer robots”, and have warned that we need to move quickly.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots has released a short film designed to demonstrate what could happen if machines that are capable of choosing who lives and who dies continue to be developed.

In the video, autonomous weapons are used to carry out mass killings with frightening efficiency, while people struggle to work out how to combat them.

It also depicts swarms of smart drones, which are equipped with explosives and use facial recognition, GPS, voting and social media data to establish and pursue targets.

“[Artificial intelligence’s] potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense,” says Stuart Russell, a professor of computer science at the University of Berkeley, at the end of the film.

“But allowing machines to choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom. Thousands of my fellow researchers agree. We have an opportunity to prevent the future you just saw, but the window to act is closing fast.”

The film was produced in partnership with the Future of Life Institute, to be shown today at the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Last week, hundreds of AI experts urged the Canadian and Australian governments to treat autonomous weapons, such as drones, military robots and unmanned vehicles, in the same way as chemical biological and nuclear weapons.

They argue that delegating life-or-death decisions to machines crosses a moral line, and must not be allowed to happen.

“It’s not the Terminator that experts in AI and robotics like myself are worried about but much simpler technologies currently under development, and only a few years away from deployment,” said Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of AI at UNSW Sydney.

“Without a ban, there will be an arms race to develop increasingly capable autonomous weapons. These will be weapons of mass destruction. One programmer will be able to control a whole army.”

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