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Experts in robotics and artificial intelligence, human rights advocates, lawyers, and even U.S. military leaders have recently expressed concerns about autonomous weapons. (Photo: Sharron Ward/Campaign to Stop Killer Robots/Facebook)

Demanding Ban on Killer Robots, Tech Experts Warn of Opening "This Pandora's Box"

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," robotics and artificial intelligence experts warn

Jessica Corbett

More than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) experts published on Monday an open letter urging the United Nations to ban the development and use of killer robots.

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare"
—letter from tech experts

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," states the letter (pdf), signed by 116 tech experts from 26 countries, including SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk, and Google AI expert Mustafa Suleyman.

Emphasizing a need to act urgently, the letter states:

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

More than a dozen countries—including the United States, China, Israel, South Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom—are developing autonomous weapons, according to Human Rights Watch. And as Common Dreams reported last summer, concerns about autonomous weapons transcend warzones. Legal experts raised alarms in July 2016 when police in Dallas, Texas used an armed robot to kill a suspected shooter.

"Unlike other potential manifestations of AI, which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability," signatory Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics, told CNN.

In response to rapidly advancing technology, the U.N. Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (UNCCW) had scheduled formal discussions about autonomous weapons—including  drones, tanks, and automated machine guns—for its Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems. Though the group was set to meet Monday, the meeting was cancelled because some states did not make their financial contributions to the U.N. The next meeting is currently scheduled for November.

Frustrated by the cancellation, the tech experts implore the UNCCW to "work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies."

The letter was released at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Melbourne on Monday. Two years ago, IJCAI was also used as a platform to "launch an open letter signed by thousands of AI and robotics researchers including Musk and Stephen Hawking similarly calling for a ban, which helped push the UN into formal talks on the technologies," The Guardian reports.

"Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend."
—letter
More than 90 countries are expected to participate in the November meeting, as well as key UN agencies, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, according to the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots—which also expressed frustration over the cancelled first meeting, and urged states "to begin negotiations on a new CCW protocol by the end of 2018 that preemptively bans fully autonomous weapons."

Just last month, members of the U.S. Senate heard similar sentiments from the second-highest ranking general in U.S. military. As Common Dreams reported, Gen. Paul Selva addressed the dangers of killer robots at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, concluding: "I don't think it's reasonable for us to put robots in charge of whether or not we take a human life."


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