Experts call on UN to stop proliferation of ‘killer robots’

By , on August 21, 2017


At the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne on Monday, technology leaders from around the world congregated at the event, first held in 1969, and requested that the development of weaponry using artificial intelligence be halted as "once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close." (Pixabay photo)
At the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne on Monday, technology leaders from around the world congregated at the event, first held in 1969, and requested that the development of weaponry using artificial intelligence be halted as “once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.” (Pixabay photo)

SYDNEY — Scientists from around the world have called for the United Nations (UN) to take action to stop the proliferation of “killer robots.”

At the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne on Monday, technology leaders from around the world congregated at the event, first held in 1969, and requested that the development of weaponry using artificial intelligence be halted as “once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

As part of this open letter to the UN, the scientists and business leaders, including world-renowned AI expert Toby Walsh, Elon Musk of Tesla, and James Chow of China’s UBTECH, called for the use of lethal autonomous weapons, or killer robots, to be outlawed much in the same way as chemical and biological weapons on the battlefield.

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought on a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations,” the letter said.

Signed by many of the world’s top AI minds, the letter was spearheaded by Walsh, a professor in AI at the University of New South Wales, who told Xinhua recently that he is concerned with what he feels is an “arms race” occurring around the world.

“I’m very worried about the impact that autonomy will have on the battlefields. There’s an arms race happening today, you can see the US military, the UK military, the Russian military — it’s a bit of an arms race,” Walsh said.

“It would be a very dangerous, destabilized the world we end up in if we do allow ourselves to fight a war with these sorts of weapons.”

Walsh and his cosignatories are asking the UN to step in and ban autonomous weapons, and he said that there has already been some positive movement from the UN in this regard, hoping this letter will spur even more actions.

“This is one where myself and thousands of my colleagues actually signed an open letter saying that the UN should take action, and the UN is starting slowly, but surely to take action in this space,” Walsh said.

One of the biggest worries shared by these technology leaders is that a rogue state, or tyrannical regime, would be able to use this these weapons in order to suppress their populace into docility, and Walsh outlined the likely path he feels will be taken in such an eventuality.

“It is certainly a worry that I have those autonomous robots will be used to suppress a whole nation, and it will be much easier than it used to be,” Walsh said.

The problem with the autonomous technology is, according to Walsh, the fact that it is dual-use which means that the exact same processes that are undertaken by innocuous creations are also the same as those that are undertaken by the sentient weaponry.

Walsh said that while it is imperative that we continue to develop this technology as the benefits to all humankind will be seemingly endless, checks and balances must be agreed upon to ensure that the safety of people around the world is held to be paramount.

“We will want autonomous cars, that technology will be developed whatever we think, there are so many benefits to it. But the same technology with a little modification could be used for very bad ends,” Walsh said.

“So it really is mostly about legislation. It really is about society as a whole like chemical weapons that this is morally repugnant, and we should not use them in warfare.”