Leaders from the robotics industry have written a letter to the UN urging a ban on “killer robots.”
116 robotics and artificial intelligence companies from across the world have co-signed the open letter.
Killer robots are essentially Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWs). They are military robots that can target and attack without any intervention from a human operator. The targets can range from a specific location to a group of people. These kinds of robots are designed to function in different kinds of environment including air, water and land.
These so-called killer robots have been in the center of an ongoing discourse regarding the ethical ramifications of their existence. In 2013, a group was formed called the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Tech leaders and scientists like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have urged for the banning of such equipment. In 2015, they published a statement elaborating that this could lead to an arms race between nations.
On December 16th, 123 members of the UN agreed to begin formal discussions on the topic. The dialogue between the members was postponed in August 2017. The UN said that this was due to some of the members reportedly not paying their financial dues to the organization.
The tech leaders who signed the letter said that it was regrettable that the first round of these talks had been cancelled. They urged nations across the world and the UN to ban these robots. Apart from Tesla’s Elon Musk, Mustafa Suleyman, the co-founder of Google's DeepMind has also signed the appeal. The letter states, “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways." Experts have said that this could usher in the “Third Revolution” in warfare.
Toby Walsh, professor of AI at University of New South Wales and one of the signatories of the letter has been quoted by the Financial Times as stating, “This new arms race has already begun in every sphere of the battlefield — air, at sea and on land. These autonomous weapons threaten to industrialize war and the way we kill people. If they become part of the military industrial complex they will end up being used against civilians.”
Ryan Gariepy, Founder of Clearpath Robotics has stated the development of such weapons was unwise and unethical and universally banned.
Our assessment is that governments across the world must decide on whether they should heed the warnings of technology leaders and experts or continue pushing the boundaries of what military combat could become in the future. We believe that killer robots can be a threat to humanity and any autonomous ‘kill functions’ should be banned.