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Elon Musk joins Aussie scientists in condemning killer robots

An eternal question: Will robots become sentient and overpower humanity?

The hefty question has been weighing on the minds of those who are currently developing artificial intelligence. An open letter to the United Nations, signed by 116 founders of relevant AI organisations, was released. ‘An Open Letter to the United Nations Convention of Conventional Weapons’ appeals to the Convention’s ability to foresee the ability for artificial intelligence to overpower humanity, particularly when used in warfare.

The letter compares advanced AI to an opened Pandora’s box, the full consequences of which can’t yet be understood.

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they 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. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.”

Among the signatories were Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla, SpaceX and OpenAI; Mustafa Suleyman, founder and Head of Applied AI at Google’s DeepMind; and Yoshua Bengio, leading deep learning expert and founder of Element AI.

Toby Walsh (pictured), Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales has been instrumental in assembling both this letter and its 2015 predecessor, which was supported by Steve Wozniak and Tim Cook. Walsh has described himself as “hopeful” that this new letter “will add urgency to the discussions at the UN that should have started today”.

James Harland is an Associate Professor in Computational Logic in the School of Computer Science and IT at RMIT University. In reaction to the letter, he explained, “I think we have a chance here to establish this kind of legal framework in advance of the technology for a change, and thus allow society to control technology rather than the other way around.

“I have seen first-hand the appalling legacy of land mines in countries such as Vietnam, where hundreds of people are killed or maimed each year from mines planted over 40 years ago.”

Here’s every signatory from Australia:

  • Tiberio Caetano, founder & Chief Scientist at Ambiata.
  • Mark Chatterton and Leo Gui, founders, MD & of Ingenious AI.
  • Charles Gretton, founder of Hivery.
  • Brad Lorge, founder & CEO of Premonition.io.
  • Brenton O’Brien, founder & CEO of Microbric.
  • Samir Sinha, founder & CEO of Robonomics AI.
  • Ivan Storr, founder & CEO, Blue Ocean Robotics.
  • Peter Turner, founder & MD of Tribotix.
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