WASHINGTON • Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are among leading technology companies that could spearhead a global artificial intelligence (AI) arms race, according to a report that surveyed major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons.
Dutch non-governmental organisation Pax ranked 50 companies by three criteria: whether they were developing technology that could be relevant to killer robots; whether they were working on related military projects; and if they had committed to abstaining from contributing in the future.
The use of AI to allow weapon systems to autonomously select and attack targets has sparked ethical debates in recent years.
Critics have warned that such use of AI would jeopardise international security and herald a third revolution in warfare after gunpowder and the atomic bomb.
"Why are companies like Microsoft and Amazon not denying that they're developing these highly controversial weapons, which could decide to kill people without direct human involvement?" asked Mr Frank Slijper, lead author of the report published on Monday.
Google, which last year published guiding principles eschewing AI for use in weapons systems, was among seven companies found to be engaging in "best practice" in the analysis that spanned 12 countries, as was Japan's Softbank, known for its humanoid Pepper robot.
Twenty-two companies were of "medium concern", while 21 fell into a "high concern" category, notably Amazon and Microsoft which are both bidding for a US$10 billion (S$13.9 billion) Pentagon contract to provide cloud infrastructure for the US military.
"The fact is that autonomous weapons are going to be developed by corporations, and in terms of a campaign to prevent autonomous weapons from becoming widespread, they can play a very big role," Dr Stuart Russell, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said.