Ban real-life Terminator Robots! So say Hawking, Wozniak, Musk, Chomsky

Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky and dozens of others have signed an open letter at The Future of Life Institute urging that autonomous killer robots be banned before they’re even invented.

The letter is as follows:

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.

List of Signatories

Related video added by Juan Cole:

Humanoid Robots in Action – DARPA Robotics Challenge

5 Responses

  1. I commend their efforts, but feel it is futile.

    One constant of history is that humans are extremely ingenious and diligent in finding new and more efficient ways to kill other humans.

    All new technology ends up being used for both good and bad.

  2. I wonder how enforceable a ban on autonomous activation will be. It’s one thing to tell that it’s carrying a bomb, another thing to tell who is pulling the trigger.

    Of course, you could use AI to find a target and then ring up a human operator in a bunker in New Mexico to get some blood on his hands. The problem is that the US has made such a expensive mess of its drone communications network that it now costs more to talk to a drone than the drone itself. An autonomous unit with no communications will be a pain to detect.
    Check on Youtube for videos of two big radio controlled helicopters picking up a woman. Now that a store-bought helicopter (about $1000) can carry 50 pounds, the weapons options are pretty extensive.

  3. Anyone who has ever programmed a computer knows about the flakiness and vulnerabilities of software. Amazingly, after decades of abominations like Windows and Internet-borne malware, it’s like the public still doesn’t have a clue.

    • Yes, imagine the havoc which will reign when some of these combat robots get taken over by hostile forces or by false flag insiders. Happy days ahead. Combat robots may be a worse advance than nuclear weapons.

      Has no-one in politics seen the Terminator films?

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