Hawking, Musk Warn Of ‘Virtually Inevitable’ AI Arms Race

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and over 1,000 AI and robotics researchers have signed a letter suggesting a ban on AI warfare, warning of the potential for rampant destruction at the hands of “autonomous weaponry.”

The letter, which was presented Monday at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, specifically advised against militaries engaging in an AI arms race.

The letter warned:

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.

Researchers were not arguing for an idealistic end to all high-tech warfare, but were specifically focused on being sure that the trigger always remained in the hands of a human controller. Their requests focused on automated weaponry, which could be used to seek and destroy targets meeting a certain pre-defined criteria, rather than “cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions.”

The onus, according to the letter, lies with major world military powers not to pursue the development of autonomous weaponry.

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.

Hawking and Musk have already expressed heightened caution regarding AI technologies. Musk has recently referred to artificial intelligence as humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” while Hawking has said that the technology “could spell the end of the human race.”

In addition to being signed by professor Stephen Hawking and Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, signatories of the letter also included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, professor Noam Chomsky and Google Director of Research Peter Norvig.

In closing, the letter stated, “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.”

If you have any questions regarding professor Hawking’s thoughts on AI warfare, you should go submit a question to his AMA on Reddit, which will be live on the site all week long.