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Elon Musk among 116 AI experts to warn of the rise of 'killer robots'

Mark Dorman
The rise of the machines, as imagined in the Terminator film franchise, may not be that far off… (Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Some of the world’s leading experts on artificial intelligence have called for a ban on the development of killer robots.

The likes of Tesla co-founder Elon Musk and Google’s DeepMind head Mustafa Suleyman are among 116 figures urging the United Nations to take a lead in blocking a potential arms race.

In a warning straight out of the Terminator movie franchise, they fear the development of autonomous tanks, drones and machine guns will see a “third revolution in warfare” – after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

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They write: “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 experts want this “morally wrong” technology to be added to the list of weapons banned under the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.

Such is the pace of development that many in the field of robotics and AI have predicted that deployment of autonomous weapons in a battlefield scenario is just years, rather than decades, away.

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In 2015, people such as Prof Stephen Hawking and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak were among 1,000 experts to write an open letter warning of the dangers of such weaponry.

Players of computer games such as Call of Duty will already be familiar with automated weapons.

Elon Musk is among 116 experts to warn of the dangers of AI weapons (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

The world’s military forces uses sentry guns and drones to carry out missions, although most rely on some form of human control and operation.

The next generation would be able to ‘think’ and ‘react’ independently, identifying targets without human intervention.

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“Unlike other potential manifestations of AI, which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability,” said Ryan Gariepy, the founder of Clearpath Robotics and the first person to sign the letter.