Some of the world’s top scientists fear that we’re on the brink of unlocking the disturbing potential of artificial intelligence (AI), and have called for a ban on autonomous weapons systems and “killer robots” that can select and assault targets without being directed by humans.
Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and renowned physicist Stephen Hawking were among more than 1,000 distinguished scientists, researchers, and engineers who signed a letter warning that in the race to develop such defense systems, “autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”
The letter was presented at the opening of International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Monday.
‘The future is scary and very bad for people.’
It acknowledged that robotic weapons could potentially reduce human casualties in warfare, but argued that the costs ultimately outweigh the benefits.
“Artificial Intelligence technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] 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,” the letter says.
But unlike nuclear weapons, whose components are traceable and relatively easy to monitor, “autonomous weapons” could spread quickly and fundamentally alter the character of warfare.
“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,” the letter claims.
It also called for clearer guidelines between academic Artificial Intelligence research and military research.
“Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most Artificial Intelligence (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.”
This is not the first time leading scientists and tech figures have sounded the alarm on the implications of artificial intelligence. Last August, Elon Musk warned that artificial intelligence is “potentially more dangerous than nukes.” Stephen Hawking cautioned late last year that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” He signed on to a similar letter in January, arguing for artificial intelligence regulations that would require robots to follow human commands.
Earlier this year, Microsoft founder Bill Gates echoed these worries in a Reddit “ask me anything” session.