Stephen Hawking joins 1,000 researchers to co-sign open letter to ban killer robots


Professor Stephen Hawking has backed a call to prevent artificial intelligence (AI) technology being used in a “global arms race”.

The celebrated physicist, who has previously spoken out about the risks of AI, joined more than 1,000 other leading scientists and businessmen in signing an open letter from the Future of Life Institute.

The letter, presented at a major conference in Argentina, suggests the ability to create autonomous weapons which think for themselves, unlike remote-controlled drones, is “feasible within years”.

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and SpaceX entrepreneur Elon Musk were also among the signatories who warned that developing autonomous weapons would be a “bad idea”.

It said: “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.

“Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity.”

AI could “make battlefields safer for humans”, including civilians, because it could focus on specific targets set by pre-defined criteria programmed by humans, the organisation said.

But, while many chemists and biologists did not want to develop weapons in their field, the letter added, robotics researchers had “no interest in building AI weapons”.

“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,” the scientists concluded.

Prof Hawking has previously said the rise of AI could see the human race become extinct.The academic is taking part in a Reddit “ask me anything” session on AI, which has received more than 7,000 comments since it was launched yesterday.

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