Tech leaders call for autonomous weapons ban

More than 2,400 technology professionals and 150 companies warn killer robots could be 'dangerously destabilising'.

    Israeli company Percepto's autonomous drone flies during a demonstration in 2016 [Baz Ratner/Reuters]
    Israeli company Percepto's autonomous drone flies during a demonstration in 2016 [Baz Ratner/Reuters]

    Thousands of the world's pre-eminent technology experts called for a global ban on the development of lethal autonomous weapons, warning they could become instruments of "violence and oppression".

    More than 2,400 individuals and 150 companies from 90 different countries vowed to play no part in the construction, trade, or use of autonomous weapons in a pledge signed on Wednesday at the 2018 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Stockholm, Sweden.

    Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, and representatives of Google's DeepMind subsidiary were among supporters of the pledge.

    "The decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine," a statement said. "Lethal autonomous weapons - selecting and engaging targets without human intervention - would be dangerously destabilising for every country and individual."

    Pre-emptive ban

    Autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots, are capable of identifying, targeting, and killing a person without any human input in its decision-making process. 


    The United States, Russia, China, Israel, South Korea and the UK possess partially autonomous weapons systems such as armed drones, according to Human Rights Watch. 

    The group is a founding member of the global Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and has called for a pre-emptive ban arguing such weapons would contravene international humanitarian law governing the use of force.

    Independent of Wednesday's pledge, 26 countries have publicly expressed support for a ban including Brazil, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

    'Disgusting and destabilising'

    UN officials are scheduled to meet next month to discuss future policy in line with the UN's Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which seeks to restrict or prohibit the use of specific arms. 

    Max Tegmark, president of the Future of Life Institute, praised supporters of the pledge for "implementing a policy that politicians have thus far failed to put into effect".

    "AI (artificial intelligence) has huge potential to help the world - if we stigmatise and prevent its abuse. AI weapons that autonomously decide to kill people are as disgusting and destabilising as bioweapons, and should be dealt with in the same way," Tegmark said.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    Interactive: Coding like a girl

    What obstacles do young women in technology have to overcome to achieve their dreams? Play this retro game to find out.

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    The War in October: What Happened in 1973?

    Al Jazeera examines three weeks of war from which both Arabs and Israelis claimed to emerge victorious.