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AI experts call for immediate action against autonomous weapons

George Nott | Aug. 22, 2017
Elon Musk and DeepMind founder Mustafa Suleyman among those raising the alarm on killer robots

Credit: Dreamstime 

An international group of artificial intelligence and robotics experts have signed an open letter to the United Nations to halt the use of autonomous weapons they say threaten a ‘third revolution in warfare’.

Elon Musk founder of Tesla, SpaceX and OpenAI and Mustafa Suleyman, founder and Head of Applied AI at Google’s DeepMind are among 116 signatories of the letter, which was issued at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2017) which is taking place in Melbourne this week.

“As companies building the technologies in artificial intelligence and robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm,” the letter states.

“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.”

In December last year, 123 member nations of the UN’s Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons unanimously agreed to begin formal discussions on the use of autonomous weapons, and 19 have already called for an outright ban. Australia is not among those that have already stated their position.

A Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems was due to meet for the first time this week, but the event was cancelled “due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN” the organisers of the letter said.

The group is now due to meet for the first time in November.

“We entreat the high contracting parties participating in the GGE to work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilising effects of these technologies,” the letter continues.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close,” it states.

The letter follows an earlier one published in 2015 and endorsed by British physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky, among many others.

Scientia Professor of artificial intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Toby Walsh, organised both letters and said action to curb the threat of autonomous weapons was required immediately.

“We need to make decisions today choosing which of these futures we want. I strongly support the call by many humanitarian and other organisations for an UN ban on such weapons, similar to bans on chemical and other weapons,” he said.


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