AUTONOMOUS WEAPONS: AN OPEN LETTER FROM AI & ROBOTICS RESEARCHERS
About A.I Weapons
Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. 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.
Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. 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. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.
The Future of Life Institute, an AI watchdog organization supported by the likes of Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, has released quite a terrifying short film to warn about the dangers of technology gone awry.
The short film “Slaughterbots” imagines a dystopian near-future, not unlike that in the popular Netflix show “Black Mirror”. In the film, a CEO of a smart weapons company presents their new technology at a Silicon Valley-style extravagant product launch. Their tech is very good at killing, but only “the bad guys” as the CEO reminds several times.
Of course, the AI-driven armed drone swarms developed by the company fall into the wrong hands and global chaos and destruction ensues.
Watch what happens for yourself:
Watch what happens for yourself:
Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons — and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.
In summary, we believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.
The purpose of the video is to support the call for an autonomous weapons ban at the UN. The video was launched in Geneva at a UN event hosted by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. AI researcher Stuart Russell presented the film at the event. He also appears at the end of the short, warning that much of the tech in the film already exists and we need to act fast.
Support for a ban on autonomous weapons has been voiced recently by 200 Canadian scientists and 100 Australian scientists.
Earlier in the summer, 130 leaders of AI companies, including Elon Musk, signed a letter urging the UN to consider the threat of an arms race in lethal AI.
Noel Sharkey of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control explained the group’s intentions:
“The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots is not trying to stifle innovation in artificial intelligence and robotics and it does not wish to ban autonomous systems in the civilian or military world. Rather we see an urgent need to prevent automation of the critical functions for selecting targets and applying violent force without human deliberation and to ensure meaningful human control for every attack.”
Defense Strategy and Capabilities .Conflicts and alliances around the globe are shifting constantly, enhancing the need for reliable and timely research and analysis. CSIS analyzes a wide range of issues related to defense strategy and capabilities.