World experts implore UN to ban autonomous weapons



In an open letter to the United Nations, 116 experts on robotics and artificial intelligence called for the ban of lethal autonomous weapons.

The letter was presented this week at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI), in Melbourne. Noted signatories include deep learning expert and Element AI founder Yoshua Bengio, Tesla founder Elon Musk, and Robonomics AI CEO Samir Sinha.

The experts expressed concern over the development of robotics technology and AI, and how it may be repurposed for military-grade weaponry. The deployment of such weapons, like drones, tanks, and automated machine guns, could potentially lead to a form of armed conflict and warfare that humans might not be prepared for.

As stated 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… Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

This comes on the heels of the UN’s Review Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which agreed to begin formal discussions on the ban of autonomous weapons in December of 2016. The Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems were expected to convene for their first meeting on August 21. However, the meeting was canceled due to, as the letter states, some states “failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN”. The meeting has now been moved to November. Of the 123 member states, 19 states have called for an outright ban of lethal autonomous weapons. It is worth noting that Australia was not among those 19 members.

To read the open letter, click here.