Physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk have called for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons” in a letter warning of a “military artificial intelligence arms race” that has been signed by more than 1000 experts.
The technology, experts claim, could give rise to a “third revolution in warfare.”
The letter will be presented at the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. It was also signed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and activist Noam Chomsky.
The letter says that such autonomous weapons could be available for deployment in the next few years.
“Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention,” the letter said.
“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.
“Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.
“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.”
Deploying arms systems that select targets and operate autonomously could result in an arms race. AI does not require any specific hard-to-create materials and is extremely difficult to control, unlike nuclear weapons, as reported by The Guardian. Allowing offensive weapons to function on their own, experts say, would lead to a greater human loss.
Hawking has said previously that deployment of AI tools could lead to the end of the human race, saying that “once humans develop artificial intelligence, it would take off on its own and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate.”
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superceded,” he said, as reported by BBC.
AI researcher Professor Toby Walsh, who also signed the letter, presented the positives and negatives of the technology.
Writing for The Conversation, he said, “My view is that almost every technology can be used for good or bad. And AI is no different. We therefore need to make a choice as to which path to follow.”
Dr Michael Harre, a lecturer in complex systems at Sydney University, said, “Scientists produced weapons of mass destruction — the original nuclear weapons — [and they] were used as a political tool.
“The scientists were concerned about what they were developing, but they didn’t necessarily take a proactive approach to managing it themselves.
“What these scientists are doing is that they’re suggesting we do as scientists have a responsibility to manage those things now.”
Walsh further said that autonomous weapons were “a different kind of threat” than nuclear weapons, and that they would “be potentially more ‘efficient’, more accurate and never resting”.
“Personally, I believe warfare needs to stay horrific and brutal,” he said.
“We need it to be so to ensure we only fight wars as a last resort.
“Politicians have to see body bags coming home and be prepared to justify why they risks the lives of our sons and daughters.
“It escalates war if we think we can be more ‘clinical’ and ‘surgical’.”
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