Founders of robotics and AI companies urge UN to take action on autonomous weapons

- August 21, 2017 2 MIN READ
Elon Musk

Over 100 founders of global robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) companies have come together to sign an open letter to the United Nations (UN), urging the body to ban the development and use of autonomous weapons, or so-called ‘killer robots’.

With the industry coming together at the 2017 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne today, the founders stated in the letter that they felt “especially responsible in raising this alarm” given their companies are building the tech that “may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons”.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they 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,” the letter stated.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close”.

The UN’s Review Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in December had agreed unanimously to begin formal discussions on autonomous weapons, with 19 of the 123-member nation conference calling for an outright ban at this time.

Today’s letter, which included signatures by Elon Musk and Mustafa Suleyman, founder and Head of Applied AI at Google’s DeepMind, was organised by Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales, who also led the signing of a similar letter in 2015.

“Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and artificial intelligence is no different. It can help tackle many of the pressing problems facing society today: inequality and poverty, the challenges posed by climate change and the ongoing global financial crisis. However, the same technology can also be used in autonomous weapons to industrialise war,” Walsh said.

“We need to make decisions today choosing which of these futures we want. I strongly support the call by many humanitarian and other organisations for an UN ban on such weapons, similar to bans on chemical and other weapons.”

The letter follows the holding of a vote by the UN in July around nuclear weapons, with 122 countries voting in favour of a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Biological weapons were banned by the UN in 1975, with a ban on chemical weapons coming in 1992.

Image: Elon Musk. Source: NBC.