An open letter that warns of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” has been signed by over 1,000 high-profile artificial intelligence experts and leading researchers, and calls for a ban on a “military artificial intelligence arms race.”
Presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the letter was signed by Professor Stephen Hawking, Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, Tesla’s Elon Musk, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. There are also over 1,000 signatures from AI and robotics researchers.
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According to the ABC, Professor Hawking has previously warned that the development of AI could mean the end of the human race, telling the BBC last year: “Once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded.”
Professor Toby Walsh from the Future of Life Institute said: “Many of the leading scientists in our field have put their names to this cause.
“We hope to bring awareness to a dire subject that, without a doubt, will have a vicious impact on the whole of mankind.
“We can get it right at this early stage, or we can stand idly by and witness the birth of a new era of warfare.
“Frankly, that’s not something many of us want to see.
“Our call to action is simple—ban offensive autonomous weapons, and in doing so, securing a safe future for us all,” according to the Daily Mail.
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In the strongly-worded letter, it calls for an outright ban on “offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control” that would prevent a global AI arms race.
The experts have also pointed out that AI weapons do not require costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials.
The letter also states that AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years, rather than decades. This makes it only a matter of time before these weapons start to appear on the black market, where dictators, warlords, and even terrorists will be able to obtain them.
“The endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting,” said the authors.
The open letter
Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers
Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems 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.
Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting.
If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: 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 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. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.
Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most 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.
Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.
In summary, 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.