Science and tech leaders warn of killer robot arms race

A group of the world's top scientists have called for a ban on autonomous weapons systems and "killer robots" that can select and attack targets without human control.

Renowned British physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, were among over 1,000 distinguished scientists, researchers, and engineers who signed a letter warning that in the race to develop such defense systems, "autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikov's of tomorrow."

The letter, which was presented at the start of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, acknowledged that robot weapons could potentially reduce human causalities in conflict, but argued that the potential costs outweigh any benefits.

It says:

AI (artificial intelligence) technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers

Unlike nuclear weapons, robotic systems don't require rare raw materials and so could rapidly become ubiquitous - like the infamous Kalashnikov assault rifle - and cheap for military powers to mass-produce, the letter claims.

Leading minds in science and technology have been warning of the dangers of AI for some time now.

Stephen Hawking cautioned late last year that "the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." He signed on to a similar letter in January, arguing for artificial intelligence regulations that would require robots to follow human commands.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates echoed these worriesin a Reddit "ask me anything" session earlier this year.

Replying to a question about the threat posed by sophisticated AI, Mr Gates said:

First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well.

Bill Gates, Microsoft founder.

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