Over a hundred experts in robotics and artificial intelligence are calling on the UN to ban the development and use of killer robots and add them to a list of ‘morally wrong’ weapons including blinding lasers and chemical weapons.
Google’s Mustafa Suleyman and Tesla’s Elon Musk are among the most prominent names on a list of 116 tech experts who have signed an open letter asking the UN to ban autonomous weapons in a bid to prevent an arms race.
In December 2016 the UN voted to begin formal talks over the future of such weapons, including tanks, drones and automated machine guns. So far, 19 out of 123 member states have called for an outright ban on lethal autonomous weapons.
One of the letter’s key organisers, Toby Walsh, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Australia unveiled the letter at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne.
The letter marks the first time that artificial intelligence (AI) experts and robotics companies have taken a joint stance on the issue.
The letter says: “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.
“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close,”
It concludes with an urgent plea for the UN “to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.”
Significant signatories to the letter include:
- Mustafa Suleyman, cofounder and head of applied AI at Google’s DeepMind Technologies (UK)
- Elon Musk , founder of Space X and OpenAI (USA)
- Toby Walsh, Scientia professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales (Australia)
- Esben Østergaard, founder & CTO of Universal Robotics (Denmark)
- Yoshua Bengio, leading deep learning expert and founder of Element AI (Canada)
- Jerome Monceaux, founder of Aldebaran Robotics, makers of Nao and Pepper robots (Switzerland)
Professor Walsh said: “Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and artificial intelligence is no different. It can help tackle many of the pressing problems facing society today: inequality and poverty, the challenges posed by climate change and the ongoing global financial crisis.
“However, the same technology can also be used in autonomous weapons to industrialise war. We need to make decisions today choosing which of these futures we want.”
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