Elon Musk, the billionaire behind such companies as electric car-maker Tesla and rocket-maker SpaceX, this week joined other experts in the field of artificial intelligence to warn against a potential "arms race" in autonomous weapons.
Musk was among nearly 100 business leaders and scientists from such countries as the U.S., Russia and China who signed an open letter this week to the United Nations "raising the alarm" on the potential for advances in artificial intelligence and robotics to lead to the adoption of autonomous weapons.
In the correspondence, the group praised the UN's plan to create a group of governmental experts on lethal autonomous weapons systems to "work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies."
"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," the letter states. "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend."
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Musk, whose companies have created self-driving cars and rockets that land back on Earth, has repeatedly warned of the potential dangers of artificial intelligence and criticized contemporaries who argue the issue is overblown.
The Defense Department has revolutionized warfare in recent decades by turning to remotely piloted aerial drones for both surveillance and strike missions. Researchers are currently exploring potential military applications involving smaller drone swarms. But officials repeatedly say a human will always be in the loop for any kind of weapons deployment.
The UN Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons had planned for the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems to meet for the first time on Monday, hence the timing of the open letter, but the session was delayed until November in part because some member countries didn't pay their dues.
The letter was posted on the website of The Future of Life Institute, a volunteer research group based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.