Business leaders join call to ban robotic soldiers

Image courtesy stock.xchnge (KillR-B)

The heads of leading technology companies will on Tuesday join the cosmologist Stephen Hawking, the cognitive scientist Noam Chomski and a host of the world’s leading artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics researchers in calling for an international ban on the development of autonomous weapons.

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computers, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk and Jaan Tallinn, co-founder of Skype, are among more than 1000 signatories to a petition that will be presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, the main international gathering of researchers in AI, on Tuesday.

The signatories warn in an open letter that the speed of technological advances means that the deployment of killer robots, “the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms”, was feasible within years.

The letter says a global arms race is virtually inevitable if any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapons development. Unlike nuclear weapons, though, autonomous weapons require no costly or difficult to source raw materials, so they would be cheap and easy to mass produce. The letter goes on to warn that it would be only a matter of time before they appeared on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators and warlords.

“Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group,” the letter continues. “We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.”

The letter concludes that artificial intelligence had great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so, and calls for a “ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control”.

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