Dawn of Killer Robots

The robotic arms race, should we be scared?

In a world first, scientists have penned a chilling letter to the UN urging them to ban the production of autonomous ‘killer robots’.

Popular culture has portrayed artificial intelligence as an eventual threat to humanity. From Terminator to Ex-Machina and Blade Runner there is an eerie and often frightening assumption artificial intelligence has the ability to be far more than just artificial and will in the near future have the ability to think, feel and communicate ( just look at Facebook’s AI speaking to each other in their own robotic language).

Despite this fairly questionable fear, AI’s potential use as a tool of war has professionals and scientists worried. Recently 116 founders of robotics and artificial Intelligence companies from over 26 countries including Elon Musk, Mustafa Suleyman from Google AI, penned a letter urging the United Nations to intercede and address the use of lethal autonomous weapons or ‘killer robots’. The group is calling for a global ban of ‘killer robots’.

Image: MQ-9_Reaper drone, currently in use.

Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales organised the creation of the letter, releasing it at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI 2017) in Melbourne. The letter is a world first for the Artificial intelligence and robotics community, as this is the first time they’ve taken the same stance on the controversial topic.

123 member nations of the UN’s Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons unanimously agreed to begin formal discussions on autonomous weapons in December last year. Of the 123, 19 have already called for an outright ban.

The letter highlights AI’s potential to become the third revolution in warfare after gunpowder and nuclear arms, explaining that when the killer technology is fully developed and mass-produced, it will permit larger scale war and at “timescales faster than humans can comprehend.”

Image: Raytheon Phalanx Close-In Weapon System, currently in use.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora ’s Box is opened, it will be hard to close,”

These experts in AI and robotics truly believe that unless the UN intervenes, humanity will not be able to protect itself from the dangers of ‘killer robots.'

It is not in contention at this point if the threat is real or not. It is an assumed progression of technology which needs to be curtailed as soon as possible.

Toby Walsh’s new book, It’s Alive!: Artificial Intelligence from the Logic Piano to Killer Robots,
just published by Black Inc, covers the arguments for and against lethal autonomous weapons in
detail.

Header: 00 Qinetiq MAARS, currently in use. 

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