from the skynet-is-beginning dept.
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.
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.
The meeting, chaired by a German diplomat, Michael Biontino, has also been asked to discuss questions such as: in what situations are distinctively human traits, such as fear, hate, sense of honour and dignity, compassion and love desirable in combat?, and in what situations do machines lacking emotions offer distinct advantages over human combatants?
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an alliance of human rights groups and concerned scientists, is calling for an international prohibition on fully autonomous weapons.
Last week Human Rights Watch released a report urging the creation of a new protocol specifically aimed at outlawing Laws. Blinding laser weapons were pre-emptively outlawed in 1995 and combatant nations since 2008 have been required to remove unexploded cluster bombs.
[...] The Foreign Office told the Guardian: "At present, we do not see the need for a prohibition on the use of Laws, as international humanitarian law already provides sufficient regulation for this area. The United Kingdom is not developing lethal autonomous weapons systems, and the operation of weapons systems by the UK armed forces will always be under human oversight and control. As an indication of our commitment to this, we are focusing development efforts on remotely piloted systems rather than highly automated systems."
Over 1,000 high-profile artificial intelligence experts and leading researchers have signed an open letter warning of a "military artificial intelligence arms race" and calling for a ban on "offensive autonomous weapons".
The letter, presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was signed by Tesla's Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis and professor Stephen Hawking along with 1,000 AI and robotics researchers.
The letter states: "AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] 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."
So, spell it out for me, Einstein, are we looking at a Terminator future or a Matrix future?
While the latest open letter is concerned specifically with allowing lethal machines to kill without human intervention, several big names in the tech world have offered words of caution of the subject of machine intelligence in recent times. Earlier this year Microsoft's Bill Gates said he was "concerned about super intelligence," while last May physicist Stephen Hawking voiced questions over whether artificial intelligence could be controlled in the long-term. Several weeks ago a video surfaced of a drone that appeared to have been equipped to carry and fire a handgun.
takyon: Counterpoint - Musk, Hawking, Woz: Ban KILLER ROBOTS before WE ALL DIE
When a news article revealed that Clarifai was working with the Pentagon and some employees questioned the ethics of building artificial intelligence that analyzed video captured by drones, the company said the project would save the lives of civilians and soldiers.
"Clarifai's mission is to accelerate the progress of humanity with continually improving A.I.," read a blog post from Matt Zeiler, the company's founder and chief executive, and a prominent A.I. researcher. Later, in a news media interview, Mr. Zeiler announced a new management position that would ensure all company projects were ethically sound.
As activists, researchers, and journalists voice concerns over the rise of artificial intelligence, warning against biased, deceptive and malicious applications, the companies building this technology are responding. From tech giants like Google and Microsoft to scrappy A.I. start-ups, many are creating corporate principles meant to ensure their systems are designed and deployed in an ethical way. Some set up ethics officers or review boards to oversee these principles.
But tensions continue to rise as some question whether these promises will ultimately be kept. Companies can change course. Idealism can bow to financial pressure. Some activists — and even some companies — are beginning to argue that the only way to ensure ethical practices is through government regulation.
"We don't want to see a commercial race to the bottom," Brad Smith, Microsoft's president and chief legal officer, said at the New Work Summit in Half Moon Bay, Calif., hosted last week by The New York Times. "Law is needed."
Possible != Probable. And the "needed law" could come in the form of a ban and/or surveillance of coding and hardware-building activities.
U.N. Starts Discussion on Lethal Autonomous Robots
UK Opposes "Killer Robot" Ban
Robot Weapons: What's the Harm?
The UK Government Urged to Establish an Artificial Intelligence Ethics Board
Google Employees on Pentagon AI Algorithms: "Google Should Not be in the Business of War"
South Korea's KAIST University Boycotted Over Alleged "Killer Robot" Partnership
About a Dozen Google Employees Have Resigned Over Project Maven
Google Drafting Ethics Policy for its Involvement in Military Projects
Google Will Not Continue Project Maven After Contract Expires in 2019
Uproar at Google after News of Censored China Search App Breaks
"Senior Google Scientist" Resigns over Chinese Search Engine Censorship Project
Google Suppresses Internal Memo About China Censorship; Eric Schmidt Predicts Internet Split
Leaked Transcript Contradicts Google's Denials About Censored Chinese Search Engine
Senators Demand Answers About Google+ Breach; Project Dragonfly Undermines Google's Neutrality
Google's Secret China Project "Effectively Ended" After Internal Confrontation
Microsoft Misrepresented HoloLens 2 Field of View, Faces Backlash for Military Contract