Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, along with hundreds of artificial intelligence researchers and experts, are calling for a worldwide ban on so-called autonomous weapons, warning that they could set off a revolution in weaponry comparable to gunpowder and nuclear arms.
In a letter unveiled as researchers gathered at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires on Monday, the signatories argued that the deployment of robots capable of killing while untethered to human operators is “feasible within years, not decades.” If development is not cut off, it is only a matter of time before the weapons end up in the hands of terrorists and warlords, they said.
Unlike drones, which require a person to remotely pilot the craft and make targeting decisions, the autonomous weapons would search for and engage targets on their own. Unlike nuclear weapons, they could be made with raw materials that all significant military powers could afford and obtain, making them easier to mass-produce, the authors argued.
The weapons could reduce military casualties by keeping human soldiers off battlefields, but they could also lower the threshold for going to battle, the letter said. “If any major military power pushes ahead with A.I. 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,” it said.
Mr. Musk, the head of SpaceX, has raised warnings about artificial intelligence before, calling it probably humanity’s “biggest existential threat.” Mr. Hawking, the physicist, has written that while development of artificial intelligence could be the biggest event in human history, “Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”
The letter said artificial intelligence “has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways.” Proponents have predicted applications in fighting disease, mitigating poverty and carrying out rescues. An association with weaponry, though, could set off a backlash that curtails its advancement, the authors said.
Other notable signatories to the letter included Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple; Noam Chomsky, the linguist and political philosopher; and Demis Hassabis, the chief executive of the artificial intelligence company Google DeepMind.
While I agree with the sentiments of this, it takes little to see it will have no effect. Even if this were agreed to by treaties by various nations the technology will be still accessible in time by more parties, which will include nongovernmental entities. This could be corporations, criminal enterprises, terrorist groups and so forth. Killer robots will be a part of the future, along with robotic cars on the internet and the ability to design new diseases. In fact, by hacking into an automobile or robotic vehicle one could turn them into robotic killers. That too is coming. In fact robotic aircraft could be hacked to make a 9/11 scenario possible without so much as a single hijacker or box cutter.
The advancement of technology means that constraints and limits are removed and positive feedback loops built to facilitate the goals of those using it. This will mean that in time there will be few limits on what any group can accomplish, which could be of the most horrible variety. I suspect that in 25 years we will start to see designer diseases employed by groups or even corporations. Don’t worry in the long run about computer viruses, worry about designer viruses meant to cause illnesses. Imagine corporation A spreading a designer disease to the workers in corporation B in order to hobble their development of XYZ product or service. Another strategy would be to unleash a pathogen that would cripple food production somewhere. By the middle part of this century I suspect that one could not only hack into robots, but with the cyber-neural interface you could hack into brains as well.
Take my word for it, the future will be far more bizarre and shocking than anything PK Dick, Damon Knight, Harlan Ellison and others portrayed in science fiction. The sort of blurring between image and reality PK Dick wrote about is here today. We are already in a world remarkably similar to Hal Brunner’s “Stand on Zanzibar,” and his environmental prophesy in “The Sheep Look Up” is materializing around us. We ain’t seen nothing yet! LC