Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking call for ban on “autonomous weapons”


Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and hundreds of artificial intelligence researchers and experts have signed a letter calling for a worldwide ban on “autonomous weapons.”

The signatories say this new era of robotic and AI-equipped killing machines could set off “the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

The letter was unveiled as researchers gathered at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires on Monday. The deployment of robots that can kill humans even when the robots aren't being controlled by human operators is “feasible within years, not decades,” the signatories wrote. If the world doesn't take steps to halt development, it's just a question of how soon the weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and warlords.

Here's the letter, and here's coverage in the New York Times. The list of signatories is impressive, and includes Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, and Demis Hassabis of AI lab Google DeepMind.

Read the letter in full, below.


Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers

Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. 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.

Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons — and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.

In summary, we believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.

Notable Replies

  1. lava says:

    note to self: sell Cyberdyne shares.

  2. Brannigan: "Killbots? A trifle. It was simply a matter of outsmarting them."
    Fry: "Wow, I never would've thought of that."
    Brannigan: "You see, killbots have a preset kill limit. Knowing their weakness, I sent wave after wave of my own men at them until they reached their limit and shut down. Kif, show them the medal I won."


    But seriously: the biggest problem with arming AI? Killing with even less accountability than cops and soldiers have now.

  4. By that logic drone killings should have more accountability and less collateral damage than most other kinds of military actions. After all, every step of the process from intelligence gathering to final bomb delivery can be dispassionately evaluated and documented by supposedly objective people whose judgement isn't impaired by the heat of combat.

    In practice this hasn't been the case at all. If a bunch of marines showed up to a wedding party and massacred dozens of unarmed men, women and children with assault rifles then they'd (hopefully) be hauled off for court-marshal. When a drone strike yields the same result we might give a little lip service to how we're going to try our best to avoid that kind of "tragic error" in the future, but nobody ever faces serious consequences for it.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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