Elon Musk leads call by tech leaders to ban killer robots

Mr Elon Musk joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.
Mr Elon Musk joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • The chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX is leading demands for a global ban on killer robots, warning technological advances could revolutionise warfare and create new "weapons of terror" that target innocent people.

Mr Elon Musk joined more than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) entrepreneurs in signing a letter to the United Nations calling for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," warned the statement signed by 116 tech luminaries, including co-founder of Google's DeepMind Mustafa Suleyman.

"Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the letter read.

The innovators also highlighted the danger that the technology could fall into the wrong hands.

"These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways," the letter read. "We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close."

Mr Musk and British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking have regularly warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence.

POTENTIAL HARM

These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

A LETTER TO THE UNITED NATIONS, which called for action to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.

The renewed plea on autonomous weapons was released as the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne got under way yesterday, with a record 2,000 of the world's top AI and robotics experts taking part, organisers said.

One expert said autonomous weapons could make war more likely. "Today, the potential loss of human life is a deterrent for conflict initiation and escalation, but when the main casualties are robots, the disincentives change dramatically and the likelihood of conflict increases," said Professor Mary- Anne Williams of the University of Technology Sydney.

She warned that a killer robot ban may be disregarded by some nations but would stop "countries such as Australia from developing defensive killer robots, thereby being vulnerable to other countries and groups that ignore the ban".

Another expert said the decision made today would help shape the "futures we want".

"Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and artificial intelligence is no different," said Professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales.

Organisers said the conference, which concludes on Friday, has attracted a record number of participants from China, reflecting a push by Beijing to become a leading player in the field.

A key focus of the event will be looking at the challenges of developing fully autonomous artificial intelligence systems, said programme chairman Carles Sierra of the Spanish National Research Council.

A UN group on autonomous weapons had been due to meet yesterday but the gathering was postponed until November, according to the international body's website.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2017, with the headline 'Elon Musk leads call by tech leaders to ban killer robots'. Print Edition | Subscribe