Terrorists are working to build armies of artificially intelligent killer robots capable of slaughtering vast numbers of innocent civilians.
That’s the terrifying claim from a piece of authoritative research published by the United Nations, which recently held an urgent meeting to discuss the threat posed by murderous machines.
Experts from dozens of countries convened in Geneva to consider the grim implications of “Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems” (LAWS) which are capable of killing without needing to have a human at the controls.
These sorts of machines are famous from films like The Terminator, but in reality killer robots could be anything from a smart landmine to a drone fitted with machine guns.
The UN wants to set strict guidelines governing the use of killer robots to make sure they don’t end up being used as indiscriminate weapons of war, but it said terrorists would never abide by these guidelines.
“Whilst these [robotic killing] systems might be available to technologically advanced countries in an initial phase, it is likely that they will proliferate,” it said in a report.
“Terrorists are in fact actively seeking such systems,” the report continued.
“Illegal transfers might mean that LAWS would become available to non-state actors [terrorists]. It was noted there may be no incentive for such actors to abide by international norms and this may further increase global or regional instability.”
The world is on the edge of a robotics revolution which is expected to see machines take on humans roles and potentially cause unemployment on a truly catastrophic scale.
But as robot tech becomes commonplace, it could end up being hijacked by terrorists and used to kill innocent people.
The UN report continued: “Due to the inherent dual-use character of many robotic technologies, many systems originally intended for civilian purposes could easily be modified to serve military functions.
“This would not only increase the risk of proliferation, but also create accountability problems.”
It is likely that powerful countries will build war machines capable of fighting battles without needing to be controlled by a human operator.
These “swarms” of killing machines could go rogue and end up pitilessly slaughtering humans on a scale far in excess of the original mission plan.
“Swarms of such systems with complementary capabilities may carry out attacks,” the report said.
“In these scenarios where swarms of LAWS act as force multipliers, it would be unclear how meaningful human control could be maintained over the use of force, especially as the available time frame for human intervention is likely to be restricted.
“This would be exacerbated where speed becomes a motivation to deploy such systems in the first place.”
Last year, more than 1,500 prominent scientists signed a letter calling for an urgent ban on killer robots and calling for an end to an “artificial intelligence” arms race.
But earlier this week Professor Stephen Hawking, one of the most famous signatories of this letter, made a statement which suggested the calls were falling on deaf ears.
“Governments seem to be engaged in an AI arms race, designing planes and weapons with intelligent technologies,” he said,
“The funding for projects directly beneficial to the human race, such as improved medical screening, seems a somewhat lower priority.”
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