AI experts call on PM to outlaw autonomous weapons

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull should publicly support an international ban on military uses of lethal artificial intelligence, according to a group of 122 AI and robotics researchers from around Australia.

In an open letter sent last week, the researchers urged Mr Turnbull "to make Australia the 20th country in the world to take a firm global stand against weaponising AI".

The call comes as a group of international experts prepare to meet in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the rise of smart military machines at the United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

"Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line," the Australian researchers wrote.

"If developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever before ... The deadly consequence of this is that machines - not people - will determine who lives and dies.

"Australia's AI community does not condone such uses of AI."

Canadian researchers, including a pioneer of the neural network approach to artificial intelligence, Geoffrey Hinton, have written a similar letter to their Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. The warnings follow those of 137 founders of AI and robotics companies who wrote to the United Nations in August, arguing for urgent action to keep "Pandora's box" shut.

The organiser of the Australian letter, UNSW Professor Toby Walsh, told Fairfax Media that smart machines had plenty of beneficial military uses, from surveillance to mine clearing. But he warned against swarms of lethal varieties that would amount to "weapons of mass destruction" without providing any guarantee of predictable behaviour.

"If you ask a roboticist 'where's the last place you would want to put a robot', it's in the battlefield," Professor Walsh said.

Defence contractor Grollo Aerospace has embarked on a collaboration with the Australian Defence Force in deploying its supersonic autonomous aerial target, to test the military's air systems. In July, Defence Industry Minister Christopher Pyne announced $50 million in funding for a seven-year research project into military applications of artificial intelligence.

"Defence needs autonomous systems to be highly trusted, robust and resilient and this initiative will bring together the best researchers from industry and universities to develop the intelligent military platforms of the future," Mr Pyne said.

The Department of Defence did not respond to questions about the regulation of autonomous weapons and their part in ADF strategy.

The Prime Minister's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

This story AI experts call on PM to outlaw autonomous weapons first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.