Killer Robot Army: Google, Tesla Warn AI Killing Machines Could Devastate Mankind

Killer robot
A robot in front of the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, part of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots in London on April 23, 2013. Luke MacGregor/Reuters

Tesla boss Elon Musk and more than 100 other robotics experts issued a warning to the United Nations: that a killer robot arms race could open a Pandora’s box that could devastate humankind.

In an open letter to the U.N., Musk, Google’s Mustafa Suleyman and 114 other specialists from 26 countries called for a ban on autonomous weapons.

The experts, all of whom work in the development of artificial intelligence, robotics and relevant industries, warned that the possible arrival of killer robots in the ranks of world militaries could be as significant to warfare as gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Read more: Why we need rules to keep humans safe from killer robots

Experts called the militarization of killer robots the “third revolution in warfare.”

“Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons 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,” the letter read.

The invention the group of experts referred to is a hypothetical weapons system which, once activated, can kill and injure human targets without a human selecting the targets or pulling a trigger.

Known officially as fully autonomous weapon systems (AWS), killer robots are close to becoming a scientific possibility and raise a plethora of questions, ranging from the safety of running weapons that could potentially be hacked, to malfunction in defiance of orders, to the moral and legal issues concerning culpability for the machine’s violent actions.

“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close,” the letter said.

Experts published the letter to coincide with the launching at the opening of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday. The U.N. delayed a meeting on the subject, due to start on Monday, to November. 

The letter’s signatories urged the U.N. to “double their efforts” in coming up with a strategy to protect the world from killer robots at the new meeting.