Elon Musk is leading 116 artificial intelligence experts to ban killer robots
Every day, another person with an IQ well above room temperature tells us that artificial intelligence will destroy the modern world. Those fears come from people like Stephen Hawking, who believe that a sophisticated A.I. could prevent itself from being shut down, and begin to act on its own accord. Others have fears more grounded in economics, arguing that mass automation will soon destroy the labor market, like the CEO of Taco Bell, who predicted that most fast food jobs could be performed by machines by 2025.
It certainly feels like we're living at a breaking point in history. So what happens when the raw processing power of A.I. surpasses the limits of the human brain? After all, we are biological organisms, so our limits are firmly encoded in our DNA. Are we capable of creating machines that will transcend those limitations? Are the paradoxes and impossible problems of human life simply a matter of horsepower, and an A.I. with a high enough IQ would render the thinking, planning and labor of ordinary humans as irrelevant as the tool-making skills of chimpanzees?
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, the man at the edge of capitalistic technology in the 21st century, fears that this could very well be the case. So he's doing something about it.
Musk, along with Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet, has gathered together 116 experts on artificial intelligence to ban the development and deployment of any weaponry that uses automated artificial intelligence. They are calling on the UN to put its foot down, in a sweeping measure that could prevent the battlefield usage of drones, automated tanks, and yes, even fully-operational murderous Terminators.
The UN is expected to soon review evidence and make a decision on the matter. Musk and his council of 116 have said that A.I. could create the "third revolution in warfare". The first was the invention of gunpowder, the second was nuclear arms, and the third will be fully-automated killing machines with the power to turn the world into a wasteland, an infinite proxy war of metal blasting metal, like the worst Transformers movie come to life.
The warnings coming from Musk's army of company founders and robotics experts are dire:
“Once developed, lethal autonomous weapons will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways. We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
The same technology that could save humankind from overpopulation, climate change and resource depletion is the very same technology that could create a permanent war economy supplied and armed by machines. The prospects of automated police, automated soldiers and automated workers leave a bleak image of a post-human world, where our cultural obsession with STEM and economics has driven us into an authoritarian world that no longer respects or needs concepts like 'humanity'.
And yet, it is important not to lose hope, because right now our humanity is the only thing capable of using technology for ill or for good. We don't know what a robot mind would look like. In the end, it may turn out to have no independent thought, no internal life, only a series of skills and pre-determined decisions. Maybe these machines will be nothing like us, and concepts like war and world domination will be as foreign to them as world peace is to us.
Either way, major technological changes are coming sooner than we can react to them, and we can only hope that the UN will do the right thing. The real question is: will anyone listen to the UN? I wouldn't want to be the one asking the United States to give up its drones. Maybe we're too attached to cold, technological war already, and Musk is futilely trying to close a Pandora's Box that opened long ago, on that desolate August morning in 1945, when the ordinary citizens of Hiroshima looked skyward to find an artificial sun melting their eyes, and then became scorched shadows upon the pavement.