A large number of researchers and experts in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics signed an open letter calling on the international community for a ban on AI-based weapon systems. Many well-known names such as Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder), Demis Hassabis (Google DeepMind), Noam Chomsky and Stephen Hawking were among the signatories. The letter was presented by the Future of Life Institute at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (2015) in Buenos Aires. Musk and Hawking have been vocal about their concerns regarding AI in the past as well.
The letter argues that artificial intelligence has great potential to benefit humanity and the focus of the field should be on that, not weaponry. While AI can make the lives of military personnel as well as non-combatants in war zones safer, “offensive autonomous weapons” will inevitably increase loss of life.
While rogue AIs have been the subject of many popular movies, novels and games like Terminator, The Matrix, Eagle Eye, Mass Effect, Portal, the nature of the danger being predicted by scientists in this letter is different.
It asserts that AI weapons, (weapons that can choose targets and attack them without any human control) can be practically feasible in a few years. And given the fact that it wouldn’t take any expensive or hard to find materials to create them, they will eventually land in the hands of most military powers and groups, including assassins, terrorists and anarchists. The nature of autonomous weapons would make them more suitable for assassinations and creating instability.
Based on these possible dangers, the letter urges the international community to ban the development of artificially intelligent weapons, stating it will trigger an arms race at the end of which autonomous weapons will become the “Kalashnikovs of tomorrow”. The letter identifies AI weapons as those that are able to identify, choose and attack a target without human control. An example of such a system would be a surface-to-air missile system that automatically identifies targets based on some imagery/radar/radio signatures and shoots them down. As such, today’s drones and missile systems do not qualify as autonomous weapon systems since they rely completely on human control.