These are the opening words of an open letter signed by over a 1000 AI and robotics researchers urging the United Nations to ban offensive autonomous weapons. Among the signees is Professor Stuart Russel who recently called on the AI community to take a stance against lethal autonomous weapon systems. Nearly another 1000 people from other fields including entrepreneur and innovator Elon Musk, physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and linguist and activist Noam Chomsky endorsed the letter as well.
The letter was presented at the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence, the main international gathering of researchers in AI. Held every two years since 1969, this year's edition takes place in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Uncontrollable arms race
Development of AI weapons, the authors argue, would start an arms race between nation states very much like the nuclear arms race. But unlike nuclear weapons, autonomous weapons do not require raw materials prohibitively difficult to acquire that will keep them out of the hands of random malevolent folk. “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.”, the letter states.
Most AI researchers do not want to develop autonomous weapons, the authors claim, and building such systems could cause a backlash against the entire field of artificial intelligence.
Banning lethal autonomous weapon systems
“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.”
In April the Convention on Conventional Weapons of the UN held a meeting discussing a ban on lethal autonomous weapon systems. Countries like Germany and Japan support a ban, but the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel are opposed. A number of NGO's have called for a ban, and now a large part of the AI community has joined them.
Image: Hover Drones, Local Police vs Terminator, by KAZ Vorpal. CC-BY license.