Barely a week after his non-profit OpenAI organization’s game-playing bot crushed the world’s best human competition in this year’s International DOTA 2 Championships, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has joined a group of international experts in an open letter calling for the UN to ban Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. The open letter comes in the wake of the cancellation of a planned meeting on the matter this week due to insufficient funding.
As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm.
We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations.
We commend the appointment of Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India as chair of the GGE. We entreat the High Contracting Parties participating in the GGE to work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.
We regret that the GGE’s first meeting, which was due to start today, has been cancelled due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN. We urge the High Contracting Parties therefore to double their efforts at the first meeting of the GGE now planned for November.
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. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.
We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.
The potential dangers of unregulated AI is one of Musk’s favorite topics in recent years, and his position in this area is reminiscent of the infamous warning by then Sun Microsystems chief scientist Bill Joy in a Wired article from 2000 called Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us. Joy’s warning was widely ridiculed at the time, but have become increasingly less far-fetched in the 17 years since.
The warnings over such technology immediately bring to mind science fiction franchises like Terminator, Battlestar Galactica, The Matrix, and Bladerunner — not to mention comic books like Magnus Robot Fighter — among many other examples of deadly-machine futures. But my mind always drifts to the distant past of Deadwood when I think of such things: “You cannot fuck the future sir. The future fucks you.”