Hawking, Musk, Wozniak warn against weaponised AI

Open letter signed by over 1,000 researchers calls for ban on autonomous weapons

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Hawking, Musk, Wozniak warn against weaponised AI Hawking has warned that the development of full AI could "spell the end of the human race" (Getty Images)
By  Tom Paye Published  July 28, 2015

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in weapons should be banned before advancements in technology spark a "military AI arms race", according to a letter signed by over 1,000 top researchers in the field.

The letter, unveiled at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Argentina, is also signed by physicist Stephen Hawking, SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak - all of whom have publicly spoken out against the dangers of AI.

The letter says that weapons science and technology was progressing in such a way that it would not be long before autonomous weapons systems were being deployed. The authors of the letter called this the "third revolution in warfare".

"AI 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," the letter states.

The big worry for the authors, however, is that the development of autonomous weapons could spark a military artificial intelligence arms race - similar to the nuclear arms race that followed World War Two. Unlike nuclear weapons, the authors argue, weaponised artificial intelligence does not require the procurement of rare raw materials, or enormous up-front investments. What's more, they say, the development of autonomous weapons by various governments would be near-impossible to monitor.

"If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable," the letter says.

The letter also claims that large-scale proliferation of weaponised artificial intelligence would mean that many weapons would end up on the black market, available to terrorist groups and rogue states.

"Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity," explains the letter.

Another worry, according to the authors, is that while autonomous weapons could make battlefields safer for military personnel, they would also lower the threshold for deploying offensives, potentially resulting in greater loss of human life overall.

Both Hawking and Musk have warned of the dangers that artificial intelligence could spell for the human race if the technology is not pursued responsibly. Last year, Musk claimed that AI could be the human race's "biggest existential threat", while Hawking has warned that the development of full AI could "spell the end of the human race".

Wozniak, meanwhile, has changed his tune on AI in recent interviews, claiming that, developed responsibly, AI-driven robots could end up becoming something like "the family pet".

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