Elon Musk and 115 other leading artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and technology experts have written an open letter to the United Nations (UN) calling for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons. Autonomous weapons are ones that are controlled by AI and act independently from humans, commonly depicted as killer robots in various forms of pop culture. In real life, these weapons refer to autonomous drones, tanks, and automated machine guns.
The open letter they wrote was released by the Future of Life Institute and was officially made public today to kick off the start of the 2017 International Joint Conference on Artifical Intelligence (IJCAI) that is being held in Melbourne, Australia.
Last December, the 123 member nations that are part of the UN's Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons came to a unanimous agreement to move forward in their talks regarding autonomous weapons. At that time, 19 nations were already supporting a complete ban. It was agreed to schedule the next stage of talks on the issue in August. They were actually supposed to start today, but have been delayed since a few of the nations have not paid their membership fees. Now, the talks will take place at some point in November.
The short open letter started by acknowledging that "we feel the responsibility in raising the alarm" since all the men and women who signed the letter run companies that create AI or robotics. Perhaps the most powerful statement in the letter is a warning which states: "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." It ends with a warning regarding lethal autonomous weapons, stating that "Once this Pandora's box is opened, it will be hard to close."
Musk, who runs OpenAI, SpaceX, and Tesla, has been famously and openly wary of AI's potential to go rogue. Just last month, he gave a speech at the National Governor's Association where he talked about the issue. During the speech, he stated that he believed that AI is the "the greatest risk we face as a civilization." Musk then went on to suggest that he believes that the government should intervene and regulate the technology before it's too late.
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