Killer Robots: AI Experts Urge Ban on Weaponized AI With 'Life and Death Powers Over Humans'

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An "Eye Drive" ground robot of German Glueckauf Logistik company drives during an exhibition at the German army base on May 18, 2010 in Hammelburg, Germany. Artificial intelligence experts say autonomous weapons systems must be banned. Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Hundreds of artificial intelligence (AI) experts have called on governments to ban weaponized robots capable of autonomously deciding whether people live or die.

Leading AI figures sent open letters to the prime ministers of Australia and Canada ahead of the United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which takes place later this month.

The open letters, which were published in parallel, come as physicist Stephen Hawking once again warned a technology conference in Portugal that AI has the potential to destroy civilization.

Signatories of the open letters include University of Ottawa professor Ian Kerr and University of Melbourne professor Tim Baldwin.

"Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line," the open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated.

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A humanoid robot at the Research Institute for Science and Engineering at Waseda University's Kikuicho campus in Tokyo on July 20. EUGENE HOSHIKO/AFP/Getty Images

Both letters highlight the "spectacular advances" of artificial intelligence and machine learning in recent years, which have led to machines capable of carrying out complex operations without human oversight or intervention.

The advancements have led to improvements in health care, education, infrastructure and transport—such as self-driving technology. But the positive transformations also hold potential for dangerous outcomes that demand "heightened moral attention," the letters say.

Read more: Robots can experience consciousness, just like humans.

Robotic corporations have previously warned that autonomous weapon systems represent the third revolution in warfare. In order to prevent this, both letters call for a new international agreement that achieves a ban on such systems.

Both letters conclude: "If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. The deadly consequence of this is that machines—not people—will determine who lives and dies."

The ban is likened to the 1996 Ottawa Treaty—an international ban on landmines initiated by Canada's then Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy.

Such a ban of autonomous weapons systems may not be possible on an international scale, however, with one expert warning that it would require the cooperation of all countries in order to be effective.

"When it comes to a ban, I think it's impossible to have an international ban, it will be country specific," Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical futurist at the Center for Innovating the Future, tells Newsweek.

"Countries like Russia, China and Iran may see an international ban as an attempt by the west to assert control. If these countries don't ban them, then countries like the United States and Canada would see a ban on killer robots as a threat to their own national security."