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Hundreds of A.I. experts echo Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking in call for a ban on killer robots

A full-scale figure of a terminator robot 'T-800', used at the movie 'Terminator 2', is displyed at a preview of the Terminator Exhibition in Tokyo on March 18, 2009.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO | AFP | Getty Images
A full-scale figure of a terminator robot 'T-800', used at the movie 'Terminator 2', is displyed at a preview of the Terminator Exhibition in Tokyo on March 18, 2009.

Scientists who understand the potential of artificial intelligence have a significant fear: killer robots, also known as autonomous weapons.

In August, more than 100 technology leaders, including Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, signed an open letter calling on the United Nations to ban the development and use of artificially intelligent weaponry. Musk has tweeted that he fears a global arms race for artificial intelligence will cause the third World War.

Monday, the famous physicist Stephen Hawking warned of the importance of regulating artificial intelligence: "Unless we learn how to prepare for, and avoid, the potential risks, AI could be the worst event in the history of our civilization. It brings dangers, like powerful autonomous weapons, or new ways for the few to oppress the many," he said at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon.

On Nov. 2, hundreds of AI experts from Canada and Australia joined the chorus, submitting open letters to their respective governments urging them to support the United Nations move to ban autonomous weapons.

"As you know, AI research — the attempt to build machines that can perform intelligent tasks —has made spectacular advances during the last decade. The evolution of classical AI, bolstered by rapid advances in machine learning, has revived the ambitions of the AI community to build machines that can carry out complex operations with or without human oversight or intervention," the Canadian community's letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says.

The development in AI technology has the potential to help society in any number of areas, including transportation, education, health, the arts, the military and medicine, the letter points out.

But that same technology, applied to weaponry is terrifying, the letter says.

"AI is of transformative significance. The transformations — actual and potential — demand our understanding and, increasingly, our heightened moral attention," the letter says.

"It is for these reasons that Canada's AI research community is calling on you and your government to make Canada the 20th country in the world to take a firm global stand against weaponizing AI. Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line."

The open letter from leaders in the Australian AI community is similar in tone and language.

"As many AI and robotics corporations — including Australian companies — have recently urged, autonomous weapon systems threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever before, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend," the letter says.

"The deadly consequence of this is that machines — not people — will determine who lives and dies. Australia's AI community does not condone such uses of AI. We want to study, create and promote its beneficial uses."

See also:

Elon Musk joins more than 100 tech bosses calling for ban on killer robots

Elon Musk says global race for A.I. will be the most likely cause of World War III

In the same way there was a nuclear arms race, there will be a race to build A.I., says tech exec