An open letter from Artificial Intelligence (AI) researchers requesting a ban on the use of autonomous weaponry has gained more than 16,000 supporters and is endorsed by Professor Stephen Hawking.
Other high-profile endorsements of the move to prevent a military AI arms race come from Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
The letter is published on the Future of Life Institute’s website and explains: “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”.
It goes on to warn that: “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.”
The letter argues that ‘autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow’ and if developed for military purposes, would inevitably end up in the hands of terrorists, dictators and warlords.
According to The Guardian, Toby Walsh, one of the AI researchers responsible for the letter, states that the issue is not as simple as it may appear and there are several arguments against the ban.
“For instance, such robots will be more precise and able to minimise civilian casualties. Another is that we should not risk human lives when robots can take their place. However, I find these carry less weight than the fear of an arms race and of these weapons falling into the hands of terrorist and other organisations,” said Walsh.
While AI clearly has the potential to benefit humanity, the letter argues that: “The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting”.