Experts call for international ban on autonomous weapons

Over 100 roboticists and artificial intelligence experts have called for an international ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems.

Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System
Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System

The call – made at the start of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2017) in Melbourne – has been endorsed in a letter signed by the founders of 116 robotics and AI companies who are concerned about their technologies being repurposed to into autonomous weapons that select and engage targets without human intervention.

The letter, which includes Elon Musk founder of Tesla, SpaceX and OpenAI as a signatory, states: “Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare.

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

A similar letter was published at the 2015 IJCAI conference in Buenos Aires in which thousands of researchers in AI and robotics warned of the dangers of autonomous weapons.

MQ-9 Reaper drone
MQ-9 Reaper drone

It cautioned that AI has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years, adding ‘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 said.

Ryan Gariepy, founder & CTO of Clearpath Robotics said: “We should not lose sight of the fact that, unlike other potential manifestations of AI which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability.

“The development of lethal autonomous weapons systems is unwise, unethical and should be banned on an international scale.”

In December 2016, 123 member nations of the UN’s Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons unanimously agreed to begin formal discussions on autonomous weapons. Of these, 19 have already called for an outright ban.

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