Over the past month the robotics sector has taken successive knocks from skeptics and automatonophobics across the globe; from robots taking over the working environment and making us all redundant to the rise of the automated army poised at destroying humanity – it seems like the dawn of the robotic zeitgeist is creeping its way into inhibiting what could potentially be both the masterpiece and ultimate demise of the human race.
As more and more tinkerers, makers and tech specialists home in their brainpower and monetary resource towards the technological advancements of the robotic industry, questions are being asked about the proposed direction we’re taking and what rules should be in place to ensure the safety of the human race.
Over the past week some of the biggest names in science, philosophy and technology have called for a global ban on the progressive development of killer robots, amid fears and warnings that by crossing this threshold the human race could be putting itself at risk of starting a new global arms race.
The intermediation by more than 100 experts in the field of artificial intelligence came in the form of an open letter. What seems to have sparked the most recent call to action was an anonymous video that showed an aerial drone firing a handgun. The letter has been signed by big hitters in the tech world Professor Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Steve Wozniak.
As it stands “ Robot soldiers” are still confined to the bar napkin, however the exponential growth and advancement in computational power and AI have raised the prospect that the US military could develop a working prototype by 2035.
The petition warns that the development of weapons systems that can attack targets without any human intervention would create the “third revolution in warfare” – the first and second being the invention of gunpowder and nuclear weapons.
The petition pictures a future that resembles a hybrid world between the terminator and Ironman, “Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group”, the letter states.
“We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.”
The petition is the second of its kind this year to come out of the Future of Life Institute – an organisation founded by volunteers of whom both Elon Musk and Professor Steven Hawking sit on the advisory board.
Of course the concept of autonomous robotic soldiers comes with its advantages; the end of human sacrifice being the most prominent, but the new weapons systems will also come as cheaper alternatives to current advanced weapon systems like combat aircrafts that support and protect our currently deployed troops. The pentagon is one of the biggest western backers of robotic research, which has funded multiple research think tanks since 2013. Speculation at the battle of the automated arms race suggests that western military organisations are concerned about losing the race to potential adversaries such as china.
For now the UK government, known for its strict rules of engagement has declined to compete in the arms race, having already enforced an outright ban on the development of these types of systems.
Although the future of these systems seems uncertain, if AI is both feasible and cost effective, the technology will be irresistible to manufacturers and defense agencies alike. Similar to the advancements in genetics the limiting factor will inevitably come down to moral ethics, which currently doesn’t hold a globally accepted uniform value.