Artificial intelligence (AI) researchers are becoming increasingly united in their calls to put a stop to the killer robot uprising before it has a chance to begin, and it seems the UN is now prepared to heed these demands, with member states agreeing to make regulating autonomous weapons a priority in 2017.
While this may seem like a pitch for another installment of the Terminator franchise, the robots in question aren’t quite as sophisticated as Hollywood’s time-travelling Arnie-shaped assassins. Rather, the term “killer robots” refers to lethal autonomous machines that can select and kill targets without the intervention of a human operator.
This may include armed drones with the capacity to seek out people who meet certain criteria, for example.
In an open letter to the UN last year, AI researchers and other prominent scientists – including the likes of Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk – described killer robots as “the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms,” and warned that “if any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable.”
This, they say, “would not be beneficial for humanity,” and rather alarmingly claim that the technology for such systems is likely to be available in years rather than decades.
Fortunately, pre-emptive action is now being taken. Las week, the 123 participating nations at the International Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva voted to form a group of international experts to tackle the killer robots issue – with a view to potentially banning them outright.
Indeed, a total of 19 countries said they want killer robots to be outlawed completely, with China saying for the first time that it sees a need for strict regulation of autonomous weapons.
The group will be chaired by India’s disarmament representative Amandeep Singh Gill, and will aim to ensure that killer robots don’t lead to an escalation of atrocities against civilians, political assassinations or terrorist attacks.