‘Weapons of mass destruction:’ AI experts urge govts to ban ‘killer robots’ in apocalyptic message

Tuesday, November 7, 2017
By Paul Martin

7 Nov, 2017

Hundreds of artificial intelligence (AI) specialists from Austria and Canada urge their governments to “stand against weaponizing AI.” The experts warn that a lack of action in this field would allow machines – not people – to decide who lives or dies.

Hundreds of members of the Austrian and Canadian AI communities signed open letters to their governments, urging them to join the campaign against what they called “killer robots” ahead of a UN meeting on weapons scheduled to take place later this month. The open letter addressed to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been signed by 122 AI scientists. The letter sent to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has as many as 216 signatories.

The AI experts called on their respective governments “to announce support for the call to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems at the upcoming United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).” They also encouraged the state officials to “commit to working with other states to conclude a new international agreement” on this issue.

“Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line,” both letters argued. The experts went on to say that machines “lack morality and mortality” so they should not be granted “life and death powers over humans.”

They also called the development of autonomous weapon systems “the third revolution in warfare” that demands “heightened moral attention.”“If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever before, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the experts warned.

Scientia Professor of AI at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Toby Walsh, who was one of the activists behind the open letter to the Australian government, said that the weapons that the experts are warning against are not some sci-fi themed “terminators” but much simpler, if not less deadly, equipment that is already under development in many countries but still escapes the attention of the international community. He also warned that their development could provoke a new arms race.

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