21 Aug 2017

Experts call for UN to ban killer robots

9:13 pm on 21 August 2017

More than 100 leading robotics experts are urging the United Nations to take action to prevent the development of "killer robots".

People look at a mock killer robot in central London at the launch of the "Campaign to Stop Killer Robots".

People look at a mock killer robot in central London at the launch of the "Campaign to Stop Killer Robots". Photo: AFP

In a letter, 116 experts in artificial intelligence and technology leaders - including the billionaire co-founder and chief executive of Tesla, Elon Musk and Mustafa Suleyman, Google's DeepMind co-founder - warned of "a third revolution in warfare".

A killer robot is a fully autonomous weapon that can select and engage targets without human intervention. They do not currently exist but advances in technology are bringing them closer to reality.

Those in favour of killer robots believe the current laws of war may be sufficient to address any problems that might emerge if they are ever deployed, arguing that a moratorium, not an outright ban, should be called for if this is not the case.

However, those who oppose their use believe they are a threat to humanity and any autonomous "kill functions" should be banned.

The letter calling for a ban on the use of AI in managing weaponry said "lethal autonomous" technology was a "Pandora's box", and said time was of the essence.

"Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the letter says.

"These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways."

"Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close."

There is an urgent tone to the message from the technology leaders, who warn that "we do not have long to act".

Experts are calling for the technology they describe as "morally wrong" to be added to the list of weapons banned under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

A UN group focusing on autonomous weaponry was scheduled to meet on Monday, but the meeting has been postponed until November according to the group's website.

A potential ban on the development of "killer robot" technology has previously been discussed by UN committees.

A previous letter in 2015 signed by more than 1000 tech experts, scientists and researchers - include scientist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and Mr Musk - also warned about the dangers of autonomous weaponry.

That letter was presented to the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires that year.


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