Killer robots might seem like a plot point from a summer blockbuster, but some of today's leading minds are warning that weapons powered entirely by artificial intelligence (AI) could be here in the very near future.
Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Tesla cofounder Elon Musk, Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak and more than 1,000 others have signed a letter warning of the threat posed by autonomous weapons.
"If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow," the letter from the Future of Life Institute warns.
These weapons will ultimately become so "ubiquitous and cheap" that "(i)t 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, etc."
The letter was released on Monday at the International Joint Conference On Artificial Intelligence held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Hawking warned last year that the “development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Musk has also repeatedly railed against the dangers of AI, comparing it to "summoning the demon," and saying the technology is "potentially more dangerous than nukes."
Earlier this year, Wozniak said he was worried about the role of man in a future dominated by artificial intelligence.
"Will we be the gods? Will we be the family pets? Or will we be ants that get stepped on? I don't know about that," Wozniak told The Australian Financial Review in March. "But when I got that thinking in my head about if I'm going to be treated in the future as a pet to these smart machines … well I'm going to treat my own pet dog really nice."
Many of the same leading thinkers signed a similar letter back in January. However, this new warning presents a much more immediate threat, claiming that AI-powered killer robots could be here "within years, not decades."
The appraisal echoes a May report from Stuart Russell, professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, who is also a cosigner of the letter. In the earlier report, Russell envisioned the AI-powered killing machine of the not-too-distant future:
"They have a shorter range, yet they must be large enough to carry a lethal payload -- perhaps a one-gram shaped charge to puncture the human cranium. Despite the limits imposed by physics, one can expect platforms deployed in the millions, the agility and lethality of which will leave humans utterly defenceless. This is not a desirable future."
The letter concludes by calling for a ban on "offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control" and encourages members of the general public to add their names to the letter here.
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