21 Dec 2017

Experts Warn of AI Pandora’s Box

The UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) has established a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), a move which has been applauded by experts around the globe. However, an open letter has been penned to the group in the Future of Life Institute, warning about the dangers that artificial intelligence (AI) might pose.

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Unsurprisingly, the letter has been signed and enthusiastically backed by Elon Musk, of Tesla and SpaceX, who has been very transparent in his views on AI, saying that it poses a greater risk to the species than anything related to North Korea. He is certainly not alone in this position, with Stephen Hawking among those who are urging caution on the topic. The letter has been signed by over 130 experts from a variety of companies covering the industries of robotics and AI and many others. Mustafa Suleyman and Demis Hassabis, the heads of AI company DeepMind are on the list, and joining in the call for heavier regulation of the emerging technology.

This letter comes alongside regular news updates of the progression of AI in the military arena. Recently, an AI-powered pilot system was able to defeat humans in a combat simulation. The AI, known as Alpha, was able to defend an area of coastline from the attackers without suffering any losses in return. With the open letter alluding to the fears that LAWS could be a third revolution in warfare, acting as a Pandora’s Box that will greatly increase the scale and impact of armed conflicts. Without the proper regulation in place in an early stage, the experts warn, we are unlikely to be able to close that box and we will see these weapons used in undesirable fashions, through hacking or possession in the wrong hands.

A lack of funding arising from a small number of states failing to fulfil their financial contributions to the UN led to the first meeting of the CCW being cancelled, which was due to take place on 21 August. The next meeting is due to take place in November. It will remain to be seen if it is able to allay any of these fears. Meanwhile, the debate as to whether these concerns are suitably grounded will continue.


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