An open letter from 116 leading experts, including Elon Musk, sent a warning to the United Nations that rogue states could repurpose current artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics innovations as weapons that could destroy humanity
In an open letter Elon Musk and 115 other tech experts plead with the UN to regulate AI development to prevent anyone using it to destroy the world. The letter was addressed to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons. It implores the UN to put in place strict regulations to avoid rogue nations misusing technologies like AI and robotics for autonomous weapons. The group, which includes Mustafa Suleyman, Head of DeepMind, worry that warring states could use such technologies in an arms race. This would defeat the purpose of their creation.
“The third revolution in warfare”
The experts felt very pleased that the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS) established itself to tackle this very issue. Furthermore, they stressed their concern that such autonomous weapons could “become the third revolution in warfare.” Their letter’s dire future predictions sounded very frightening indeed. They painted a dystopian future already seen depicted on cinema screens.
Certainly, this is not the first time that Musk has expressed his paranoia that rogue nations could potentially misuse AI for evil and subversive purposes. This year, Musk was guest spokesperson at the 2017 National Governors Association Summer Meeting. Musk described how, potentially, AI is the “biggest risk we face as a civilization.” He went further, saying that the key is early government regulation. In the past similar government regulations over misused technologies arrived too late.
Musk’s fears are very grave. They appear to be the catalyst behind many of his entrepreneurial ventures. His drive to get humans to Mars is one such solution he feels will need to be implemented should rogue AI someday make the earth uninhabitable for humankind. Additionally, Musk sees the development of Brain Machine Interface (BMI) technology as a pre-emptive way to stave off AI one day dominating humanity. Musk founded Neuralink in 2016 to develop technologies to link the human brain with technology, such as neural lace or chip implants.
Are Musk’s fears justified?
Musk told of how some nations are already developing AI-powered weapon technology. And thus far, no official body has put regulations in place to prevent these countries misusing them. Russia has wasted no time developing such weapons. The nation even has an AI-powered missile in the works. Nevertheless, according to Boris Obnosov, CEO of the Tactical Missiles Corporation, noone has yet developed technology this advanced. The technology simply does not exist that enables a missile to choose a target for itself.
Skeptics believe Musk is merely overly paranoid. Robert D. Atkinson, President of the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, believes that claims that AI is destined to “kill us all” is a myth. He is extremely concerned that such paranoia will prevent further progress in this important field. Therefore, Atkinson warns against having a “cup half empty” attitude to AI technology. He worries that Musk’s fearmongering will over-regulate the technology to the point of suffocating it.
According to Atkinson, we should no more fear AI than “shovels or tractors”
Furthermore, another of Musk’s skeptics, Professor of Computer Science Michael Littman agrees with Atkinson. He stresses rationality over fear. Eyewitness News interviewed Littman this year. Littman explained to reporters how people had misplaced concerns about AI. Consequently, many become caught up in uneducated misunderstandings of the technology.
Most modern tech, like for example smartphones, contain AI. However, the type of AI that Musk feels worried about is “artificial general intelligence (AGI).” So far, AI technologies are only capable of learning. However potentially, AGI technologies would be capable of thinking. According to Littman, the ability of AI to “think,” and develop itself to such a state that it could destroy humankind, is still only theory.
So who do we believe? There are further questions we could ask both Musk and his critics, Atkinson and Littman. Let us know your opinions below.