Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak call for autonomous weapon ban

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Columbia Pictures
While universes like The Matrix might have suggested that we will one day have to fight back against machines for our very survival, many technological and scientific minds believe that before we reach that possible future, we may have to deal with an autonomous arms race among world nations. To make sure that doesn’t happen, over 1,000 technological luminaries have signed an open letter, asking governments around the world to agree to the banning of weapons that operate without human intervention.

The list includes members of the fields of robotics, physics, engineering and programming, with such high profile names as Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak also signing on. Together, they want to see a ban put in place on the military usage of weapons that could autonomously “select and engage targets without human intervention.”

Early examples of such machines would be quadcopters armed with ballistics weaponry and targeting systems, but they would only be the beginning. As more complicated AIs are developed and robotics improves, there is the real potential for autonomous killing machines to be used for assassinations, ethnic genocide or the subjugation of populations under brutal dictatorships.

Related: Cute or creepy? This little robot just passed a self-awareness test

However, these robots won’t look like they’re about to star opposite Will Smith, or Die Antwoord. According to roboticst Noel Sharkey, who CNET spoke to before he too signed the letter, the autonomous weapons of the near future will look much like the ones we have now.

“They will look like tanks,” Sharkey said. “They will look like ships, they will look like jet fighters.” The only difference is, they will perform their tasks without humans giving them more than the basic parameters for an order. “Our aim,” he said, is to “prevent the kill decision being given to a machine.”

It’s hoped that much as chemical and biological engineers have repeatedly stood up to those that would want to develop chemical weapons, software engineers will do the same with autonomous weapons and help reject the practice of making killing autonomous and to an extent, blameless.

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