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Elon Musk and over 100 AI experts warn U.N. about killer robots

Academics and industry leaders worried about killer robots and AI creating “the third revolution in warfare” have banded together to urge further action on the issue.

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and 116 other executives and scholars signed an open letter addressed to United Nations leaders on Monday applauding their recent decision to establish a group of “government experts” to research the potential threat. The letter, its authors claim, is the first time such a large group of AI leaders have gotten on the same page regarding the possible consequences of combining killer robots with increasingly advanced artificial intelligence. Its release coincides with the beginning of the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Melbourne, Australia.


“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter states. “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

In the past decade and a half, experts have noted that “lethal autonomous weapons systems” have quickly moved from science fiction to reality. The South Korean government uses robotic sentry guns along their side of the Demilitarized Zone separating South and North Koreas, and military contractors like BAE Systems have been working on autonomous drones and similar technologies for years.

Elon Musk, in particular, has long served as Silicon Valley’s worrier-in-chief on artificial intelligence. He once mused publicly that humanity is living inside a video game simulation, and he has poured more than a billion dollars into researching and publicizing what he believes to be the inevitable artificial intelligence–generated apocalypse.

Most concretely, Musk has warned that Google, specifically, is the company that worries him most because it has such advanced AI technology. Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder of the Google-owned AI startup DeepMind, is among the signatories on the letter sent to the U.N.