Leading AI researchers, scientists call for a ban on autonomous weapons

Ban weapons that choose their targets before they start an arms race, say Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and other signatories of an open letter

Ban autonomous offensive weapons before they start an arms race or a war: That's the demand of the artificial intelligence and robotics researchers who joined more than 1800 people in signing on to an open letter published Monday.

Stephen Hawking, Tesla founder Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak are among the signatories of the letter published at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, which runs through Thursday in Buenos Aires.

They warned that the creation of weapons that select and destroy targets autonomously, without human intervention, is likely to start a new global arms race -- something that could happen within a few years, given the current state of AI research.

Some consider the creation of autonomous weapons to be the third revolution in warfare, after the inventions of gunpowder and nuclear bombs. Such weapons might include armed quadcopters able to search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria. Existing weapons such as cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones are not considered autonomous because humans choose their targets, so the development of artificial intelligence software to make those decisions is the only obstacle to the creation of autonomous weapons.

If we accept that wars must be waged, then there are pros and cons to the use of autonomous weapons. Replacing human soldiers with machines reduces casualties for the machines' owners -- but lowers the threshold for going to battle, the letter said.

The key question humanity faces today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting, the scientists wrote, warning that it will only take one major military power developing AI weapons to make a global arms race almost inevitable.

"The endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: Autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow," they wrote.

With no need for the costly, hard-to-obtain radioactive isotopes used in nuclear weapons, autonomous weapons will be easy and cheap to mass-produce, and will inevitably end up on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators and warlords, they warned, adding that such weapons will be ideal for assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and ethnic cleansing.

"We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity," the signatories said, concluding that it "should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control."

The full text of the letter, and its signatories, can be found on the website of the Boston-based Future of Life Institute, a think-tank that says it is working to mitigate existential risks facing humanity. Its founders include Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, and its scientific advisory board includes Hawking, Musk and actors Alan Alda and Morgan Freeman.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags Government use of ITFuture of Life Instituteroboticsgovernment

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?