Strange enough as it sounds, the letter is serious. Over 1,000 high-profile figures have already signed the letter fearing that weapons able to “select and engage targets without human intervention” will become the “Kalashnikovs (AK-47s) of tomorrow,” reports The Verge.
As of now, autonomous robots capable of attacking humans do not exist, but the technology does. The letter warns:
“Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems 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 creation of such advanced intelligence has sparked an intense debate over ethical questions concerning fueling war, terrorism and global instability.
Some argue that the expansion of autonomous warfare would reduce human casualties on the battlefield, but the letter contends that misuse of the technology would be inevitable:
“It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetuate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”
While artificial intelligence presents unfathomable possibilities, autonomous weaponry could threaten the possibility of humanity ever reaching its full potential. The letter states:
“We believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”
Rather than advancing as a civilization, the researchers at FLI say autonomous weapons would create a “major public backlash” that would disrupt the future development of artificial intelligence and would result in a global arms race:
“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable.”
The open letter was also signed by cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Skype co-founder Jaan Talinn, and Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis (along with 39 other Google employees).
Earlier this year, Elon Musk donated $10 million to the institute to back a program intended to keep AIs beneficial to humanity.