from the reverse-polarity dept.
A United Nations commission is meeting in Geneva, Switzerland today to begin discussions on placing controls on the development of weapons systems that can target and kill without the intervention of humans, the New York Times reports. The discussions come a year after a UN Human Rights Council report called for a ban (pdf) on “Lethal autonomous robotics” and as some scientists express concerns that artificially intelligent weapons could potentially make the wrong decisions about who to kill.
SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk recently called artificial intelligence potentially more dangerous than nuclear weapons.
Peter Asaro, the cofounder of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), told the Times, “Our concern is with how the targets are determined, and more importantly, who determines them—are these human-designated targets? Or are these systems automatically deciding what is a target?”
Intelligent weapons systems are intended to reduce the risk to both innocent bystanders and friendly troops, focusing their lethality on carefully—albeit artificially—chosen targets. The technology in development now could allow unmanned aircraft and missile systems to avoid and evade detection, identify a specific target from among a clutter of others, and destroy it without communicating with the humans who launched them.
Elon Musk was recently interviewed at an MIT Symposium. An audience asked his views on artificial intelligence (AI). Musk turned very serious, and urged extreme caution and national or international regulation to avoid "doing something stupid" he said.
"With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon", said Musk. "In all those stories where there's the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it's like, 'Yeah, he's sure he can control the demon.' Doesn't work out."
Read the story and see the full interview here.
The specter of autonomous weapons may evoke images of killer robots, but most applications are likely to be decidedly more pedestrian. Indeed, while there are certainly risks involved, the potential benefits of artificial intelligence on the battlefield — to soldiers, civilians and global stability — are also significant.
The authors of the letter liken A.I.-based weapons to chemical and biological munitions, space-based nuclear missiles and blinding lasers. But this comparison doesn't stand up under scrutiny. However high-tech those systems are in design, in their application they are "dumb" — and, particularly in the case of chemical and biological weapons, impossible to control once deployed.
A.I.-based weapons, in contrast, offer the possibility of selectively sparing the lives of noncombatants, limiting their use to precise geographical boundaries or times, or ceasing operation upon command (or the lack of a command to continue).
Personally, I dislike the idea of using AI in weapons to make targeting decisions. I would hate to have to argue with a smart bomb to try to convince it that it should not carry out what it thinks is is mission because of an error.