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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

“Two years ago at this same conference, we released an open letter signed by thousands of researchers working in AI and robotics calling for such a ban. This helped push this issue up the agenda at the United Nations and begin formal talks. I am hopeful that this new letter, adding the support of the AI and robotics industry, will add urgency to the discussions at the UN that should have started today,” he added.


Killing machines

Autonomous weaponry is for the most part still at the prototype stage, although the technology is rapidly improving.

Several nations with advanced militaries, particularly the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom are moving toward systems that would give greater combat autonomy to machines, according to international coalition, Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

“Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and artificial intelligence is no different,” said Walsh. “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.”

Ryan Gariepy, founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics and one of the first to sign the open letter added:

“The number of prominent companies and individuals who have signed this letter reinforces our warning that this is not a hypothetical scenario, but a very real, very pressing concern which needs immediate action,” he said.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that, unlike other potential manifestations of AI which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability. The development of lethal autonomous weapons systems is unwise, unethical and should be banned on an international scale.”

Yoshua Bengio, founder of Element AI and a leading deep learning expert, said: “I signed the open letter because the use of AI in autonomous weapons hurts my sense of ethics, would be likely to lead to a very dangerous escalation, because it would hurt the further development of AI’s good applications, and because it is a matter that needs to be handled by the international community, similarly to what has been done in the past for some other morally wrong weapons – biological, chemical, nuclear.”

Stuart Russell, founder and vice-president of Bayesian Logic, added: “Unless people want to see new weapons of mass destruction - in the form of vast swarms of lethal microdrones – spreading around the world, it’s imperative to step up and support the United Nations’ efforts to create a treaty banning lethal autonomous weapons. This is vital for national and international security.”


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