"Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea," an open letter presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aries and signed by such luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk says.
The letter looks to be an effort to dissuade governments from developing weapons systems with offensive capabilities that can operate "without human intervention." The plea comes as the world begins to ask tough questions about AI amid frightening portrayals in cinema (Ex Machina) and real world (if rudimentary) efforts to build killer robots reminiscent of the T-1 terminator.
Although the letter notes that the world’s top AI researchers have no interest in unleashing Skynet, that’s precisely what will happen once an enterprising nation kicks off the "inevitable" AI arms race, experts say. Once these weapons find their way to the battlefield, the letter continues, it would then be only a matter of time before they hit the black market, at which point they would wind up in the hands of terrorists and all sorts of other unsavory individuals including dictators and tribal warlords.
Ultimately, the note is a call to action and suggests a ban on "offensive autonomous weapons."
The authors cite similar international agreements on chemical and biological weapons, space nukes, and lasers that blind people. But for everyone out there who enjoys a good drone strike debacle every now and again, don’t worry because the signatories (which also include Steve Wozniak and Noam Chomsky) are just fine with real-life Carrie Mathisons incinerating "terrorists" from the stratosphere (just forget about the occasional collateral damage).
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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.
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And while we certainly agree that no one wants to live in a world where autonomous marauding robots roam the earth indiscriminately eliminating targets of their own choosing, we fear the revolution may have already begun... in Connecticut: