The top artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics experts in the world are raising an alarm about the disastrous consequences of continuing the international arms race to develop lethal weapons controlled by autonomous computer programs.
A total of 116 experts fired a brief, yet chilling letter to the United Nations on Monday, Aug. 21, cautioning that, once developed, AI weapons “will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.”
“We do not have long to act,” the experts wrote, with unprecedented bluntness and alarm. “Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
The group of AI experts spans four continents and is composed of founders of major AI and robotics companies, including the likes of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, and Mustafa Suleyman, an artificial intelligence specialist at Google.
Since these private enterprises create technologies that can be used by government military researchers to further the development of weaponized AI, they took the bold step to raise the warning at a global level.
“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways,” the experts wrote.
Musk has been warning about the dangers of weaponized AI for years. He recently said that the threat from artificially intelligent weapon systems is greater than the risk of nuclear war with North Korea.
“If you’re not concerned about AI safety, you should be. Vastly more risk than North Korea,” Musk wrote on Twitter on Aug. 11, when tensions with North Korea were at a high point.
The world’s superpowers are all racing to develop AI weapons systems, according to a Human Rights Watch report titled Banning Killer Robots in 2017. United States, China, Russia, Britain, Israel, and South Korea are all vying to top each other in what the letter states may “become the third revolution in warfare.”
“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,” said Ryan Gariepy, the first signer of the letter to the U.N. and the founder of Clearpath Robotics, told CNN.
The message from AI experts was timed to preclude a U.N. meeting scheduled for Monday among government experts on AI. That meeting was postponed to November due to some member nations not paying their dues.
The Australian professor who organized the letter to the U.N., Toby Walsh, warned that AI technologies being developed by nongovernment firms around the world can be adapted to weapons systems to “industrialize war.” He urged the U.N. to ban killer robots just like chemical weapons.