The World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has turned its attention towards “killer robots,” or fully autonomous weapons. For the first time, the subject made it on the forum’s agenda amid the general interest in artificial intelligence around the world.
Robotics advances hold plenty of benefits for the human society, but the focus has now shifted from their potential assistance to humans to a somewhat darker perspective: “What if robots go to war?”
Apocalyptic scenarios featuring rogue robots causing havoc in the world are really not that new – we have proof in the flurry of science fiction movies and literature.
While the theme of the one hour-long panel session held on Thursday sounds a lot like the premise of Will Smith’s I Robot movie, this idea is now being discussed with the utmost sobriety by scientists, experts, and various organizations.
According to Mary Wareham, coordinator of Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, this initiative isn’t out to destroy the industry of robotics. “It’s about trying to ring-fence the dangerous technology.”
Launched in 2013, this merging of non-governmental organizations, wants to “preemptively ban fully autonomous weapons.” They also offered a definition: “weapons systems that select targets and use force without further human intervention.”
It’s not surprising that renowned physicist Stephen Hawking is among the thousands of experts, researchers, and business leaders who signed an open letter on the matter in July 2015. Its conclusion is pretty clear: “Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.”
Yet there are some who oppose this preemptive ban, like Ronald Arkin, associate dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, who strongly believes these technologies could seriously reduce civilian casualties in the case of war.
However, he agrees that having a moratorium on deploying such weapons is necessary “until we can show that we have exceeded human-level performance from an ethical perspective.”
The Davos forum’s panel included Sir Roger Carr, the BAE Systems chair and an artificial intelligence expert, who revealed that the industry developing autonomous weapons is worth $40 billion and spans across 40 countries.
Mr. Carr warned the attendees about fully autonomous weapons – lacking responsibility, emotions or sense of mercy – a grim scenario in which the lack of ethics, judgement and morality would take humanity to a new level where are not prepared to comprehend.
And these weapons are rather close to becoming a reality. According to experts, artificial intelligence is advanced enough to allow the deployment of such systems within years.
Image Source: Gaia Health Blog