Elon Musk Leads Charge Urging UN To Ban Autonomous Killer Robots Before It's Too Late

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockAug 21 2017, 12:21 UTC


Scientists and AI (artificial intelligence) experts have signed an open letter urging the United Nations to ban autonomous killer robots. Robotics industry leaders, including Elon Musk and Google’s Mustafa Suleyman, co-creator of DeepMind, warned that the UN doesn't have long to act before it's too late.

The 116 industry leaders from all over the world said that if the world allows killer robots to be built, it would allow armed conflict on a scale incomprehensible to humans. The robotics experts are hoping for the UN to outright ban robotic weapons that act without the input of human operators. 


The UN is currently establishing a group of experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems, and the letter signees say they are eager to offer their expertise before a "third revolution in warfare" takes place.

"As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm," they write in the letter.

"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. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways."

"We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close."


Elon Musk, who led the call, is no stranger to warning the world about AI. Just last week he warned that AI poses a greater threat than North Korea – which has nuclear weapons and a brutal dictator in control of them.


Last month at the US National Governors Association summer meeting, Elon had even starker words about AI in general.

“I have exposure to the very cutting-edge AI, and I think people should be really concerned about it,” the SpaceX CEO said.

“I keep sounding the alarm bell, but until people see robots going down the street killing people, they don’t know how to react, because it seems so ethereal.” 


Whilst some of the statements about artificial intelligence can sound pretty alarmist, scientists have been consistent in their calls for bans on autonomous weapons. In 2015, over 1,000 experts, including Stephen Hawking, signed a letter warning of a global arms race.

“The endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow," the letter said. "The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting."

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