America's preeminent owner of droid boats and space rockets is freaking out about violent robots, you guys.
Bond villain come-to-life Elon Musk has joined with his poker buddies Stephen Hawking and Noam Chomsky to warn everyone that we need to stop f#cking around with killing machines. An open letter released by the Future of Life Institute, and co-signed by science celebs like Musk and a litany of artificial intelligence academics, takes a very scary look at the world of drone warfare and the terrifying future that it posits.
Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions.
Y'know the kind of stuff you think Elon Musk would maybe build...
The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. 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. 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. 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 perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.
Oh dear god.
It seems that Musk and his allies are ready to nip this robot armageddon right in the bud though, by pledging to keep their robots pure of heart.
Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons — and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.
So there you have it: Elon Musk is firm in his stance against interplanetary nuclear bombs. Also, no laser weapons that will literally poke your eyes out.
Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers [Future of Life Institute]