DeepMind and tech leaders vow not to develop lethal AI weapons

Killer robots may never see the light of day thanks to a pledge made by top AI developers. 

The likes of DeepMind’s Demis Hassabis, Skype’s founder Jaan Tallinn and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, plus other tech leaders, have come together to promise not to develop lethal autonomous weapons. 

The pledge, published today at the 2018 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Stockholm, was organised by the Future of Life Institute (FLI). A research organisation based in Boston, the Institute supports research and initiatives to safeguard life, particularly the risk faced by advanced AI.

What are lethal autonomous weapons?

These are weapons that select and engage targets without human intervention. 

This doesn’t include remotely piloted drones as humans will make the targeting decisions, but really the next stage in warfare where weapons could search for and eliminate people who meet pre-defined criteria. 

This is not the first time this cohort has come together to call for the prevention of autonomous weapons. Last year, the FLI published letters from the likes of Musk calling on the United Nations to regulate this technology.

But this is the first time the AI community is coming together to pledge not to develop these weapons. 

The letter said: “AI is poised to play an increasing role in military systems. There is an urgent opportunity and necessary for citizens, policymakers, and leaders to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable uses of AI. 

“In this light, we the undersigned agree that the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine. There is a moral component to this position, that we should not allow machines to make life-taking decisions for which others – or nobody – will be culpable.”

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At the moment, there is more of an international impetus to regulate lethal autonomous weapons. A total of 26 countries in the United Nations have explicitly endorsed the call for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems, including Brazil and China, however notable states like the US and UK are absent from the list. 

As well, the tech companies themselves are coming out about the dystopic ways this technology could be used.

After coming under fire for working with the US military, Google published a set of principles on its use of AI. The company explicitly said it will not pursue AI applications in “weapons or other technologies whose principal purpose or implementation is to cause of directly facilitate injury to people.” 

Even if the major states won’t support the regulation of AI weapons, major tech companies are pledging not to pursue the technology which means the development of lethal autonomous weapons should be stopped in its tracks.  


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