Call for ban on autonomous weapons

Robots that can kill on their own will end up in hands of warlords, terrorists: Experts

NEW YORK • Over 1,000 artificial intelligence experts and leading researchers, including physicist Stephen Hawking and inventor Elon Musk, are calling for a worldwide ban on so-called autonomous weapons, warning that they could set off a revolution in weaponry comparable to gunpowder and nuclear arms.

In a letter unveiled as researchers gathered on Monday at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the signatories argued that the deployment of robots capable of killing while untethered to human operators is "feasible within years, not decades".

If development is not cut off, it is only a matter of time before the weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and warlords, they said.

Unlike drones, which require a person to remotely pilot the craft and make targeting decisions, the autonomous weapons would search for and engage targets on their own. Unlike nuclear weapons, they could be made with raw materials that all significant military powers could afford and obtain, making them easier to mass-produce, the authors argued.

The artificial intelligence technology weapons could reduce military casualties by keeping human soldiers off battlefields, but they could also lower the threshold for going to battle, the letter said. "If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: Autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow," it said.

CUT OFF DEVELOPMENT

If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: Autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.

A LETTER from artificial intelligence experts and leading researchers

Mr Musk, head of aerospace manufacturer SpaceX, has raised warnings about artificial intelligence before, calling it probably humanity's "biggest existential threat".

Professor Hawking, the physicist, has written that while development of artificial intelligence could be the biggest event in human history, "unfortunately, it might also be the last".

Other notable signatories to the letter included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, political philosopher Noam Chomsky and Mr Demis Hassabis, chief executive of the artificial intelligence company Google DeepMind.

The letter said artificial intelligence "has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways".

Proponents have predicted applications in fighting disease, mitigating poverty and carrying out rescues. An association with weaponry, though, could set off a backlash that curtails its advancement, the authors said.

Artificial intelligence professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that AI could be used in a productive way, and the ban was suggested only for offensive weapons.

"There are many good uses we could put robots to in the battlefield - for instance, why risk lives clearing minefields when we can have robots do this?" he told ABC News. "Personally, I believe warfare needs to stay horrific and brutal. Politicians have to see body bags coming home and be prepared to justify why they risk the lives of our sons and daughters. It escalates war if we think we can be more 'clinical' and 'surgical'," he said.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2015, with the headline 'Call for ban on autonomous weapons'. Print Edition | Subscribe