Musk and industry experts warn the UN to ban killer robots
Obvious news is obvious; if we wish to avoid a self-inflicted terminator inspired apocalypse then we really should think long and hard about whether we should allow autonomous artificial intelligence to be allowed in warfare.
Tesla’s Elon Musk and Alphabet’s Mustafa Suleyman are leading a group of 116 specialists from across 26 countries who are calling for the ban on autonomous weapons.
The UN has recently voted to begin discussions on whether it should ban such weapons as drones, tanks and automated machine guns. The group, all founders of AI and robotics companies, have all signed an open letter to the UN urging them to curb the development of self-aware technology in warfare.
The founders wrote: “Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
Experts have previously warned that AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of autonomous weapons is feasible within years, rather than decades. While AI can be used to make the battlefield a safer place for military personnel, experts fear that offensive weapons that operate on their own would lower the threshold of going to battle and result in greater loss of human life.
The UK government opposed such a ban on lethal autonomous weapons in 2015, with the Foreign Office stating that “international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area”. It said that the UK was not developing lethal autonomous weapons and that all weapons employed by UK armed forces would be “under human oversight and control”.
According to The Guardian, The UK’s Taranis drone, in development by BAE Systems, is intended to be capable of carrying air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance intercontinentally and incorporating full autonomy. The unmanned combat aerial vehicle, about the size of a BAE Hawk, the plane used by the Red Arrows, had its first test flight in 2013 and is expected to be operational some time after 2030 as part of the Royal Air Force’s Future Offensive Air System, destined to replace the human-piloted Tornado GR4 warplanes.
Russia, the US and other countries are currently developing robotic tanks that can either be remote controlled or operate autonomously. These projects range from autonomous versions of the Russian Uran-9 unmanned combat ground vehicle, to conventional tanks retrofitted with autonomous systems.
The US’s autonomous warship, the Sea Hunter built by Vigor Industrial, was launched in 2016 and, while still in development, is intended to have offensive capabilities including anti-submarine ordnance. Under the surface, Boeing’s autonomous submarine systems built on the Echo Voyager platform are also being considered for long-range deep-sea military use.
Whether the Earth should have self-aware killer robots roaming battlefields attempting to decide who is a genuine threat and who is just going about their business is not a thought that many relish. Similarly questions regarding what programming could be provided to a robot for it to decide these issues provoke disturbing questions.
In the end, it’s perhaps most logical to listen to industry experts who fear that building a self-aware robot army may well turn pretty bad for us.