Brit professor joins thousands of experts to sign open letter calling for urgent ban on battlefield murder machines before they become the ‘Kalashnikovs of tomorrow’ Professor Stephen Hawking has teamed up with thousands of scientists to call for an urgent ban on killer robots and an end to the “global artificial intelligence arms race”. The British superstar physicist was the most famous signatory of a letter presented to the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hawking and his fellow scientists painted a grim picture of a future era populated bymurder machines which stalk the earth, killing at will. They said an arms race was “inevitable” as nations scrabble to build their own army of silicon super-soldiers. These artificial killers are likely to become so cheap and reliable that they will become the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow” – cheap, reliable and easy to use.
In one particularly horrifying prediction, the experts said racist robots could be programmed to attack people from a certain ethnicity. “Unlike nuclear weapons, [killer robots] require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce,” the scientists wrote. “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. “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.”
Military robots are referred to as “autonomous weapons”, which would include “armed quadcopters that can eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria”, but not remotely piloted drones. Some supporters have claimed murderbots could stop human beings from having to go to war. But critics said they lower the threshold to conflict, making it easy for rival to declare war and get boots on the ground with no risk of human deaths. The scientists added: “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. “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.” Defence agencies across the world are investing heavily in technology that can reduce bloodshed and automate acts of war, with one senior American officerclaiming he could replace a quarter of troops with robots and remote-controlled vehicles.