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1,000 Experts Sign Letter Warning Of ‘Artificial Intelligence Arms Race’

By Jonah Bennett

More than 1,000 experts in the artificial intelligence industry and other fields have put their names down on a letter pushing for an outright ban on research involving autonomous weapons systems.

These experts are gathering together at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence Tuesday where the signed letter, crafted by the Future of Life Institute, is set to be presented, The Guardian reports.

The warning doesn’t include a call for prohibiting technology like cruise missiles or drones, as those require humans making targeting decisions behind the scenes. Instead, the authors of the letter argue that the central problem is that AI weapons will likely be feasible in the near future and would count as the third revolution in warfare.

Part of the problem with AI weapons, the letter notes, is that while the technology would reduce casualties suffered by the operators, it would simultaneously lower the barriers to military action, thus prompting a net increase in war. Moreover, if one country starts researching AI weapons, other countries will likely be forced to follow, which would create a dangerous arms race.

Earlier this year, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors, gave Future of Life a $10 million donation to support research keeping AI safe for humanity. Musk, one of the signatories, has previously argued that AI is “potentially more dangerous than nukes.” The letter also features support from Stephen Hawking, as well as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.

“If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow,” the authors write. “Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce.”

The letter points out that prohibition isn’t a hopeless task, since similar results have been achieved in the chemical/biological warfare field. Some countries aren’t convinced of the threat AI weapons pose. In April at a UN conference, the UK pushed back against a proposed ban.

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