Robot Weapons: What’s the Harm?

Jerry Kaplan in the New York Times:

Kaplan-master675Last month over a thousand scientists and tech-world luminaries, including Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Steve Wozniak, released an open letter calling for a global ban on offensive “autonomous” weapons like drones, which can identify and attack targets without having to rely on a human to make a decision.

The letter, which warned that such weapons could set off a destabilizing global arms race, taps into a growing fear among experts and the public that artificial intelligence could easily slip out of humanity’s control — much of the subsequent coverage online was illustrated with screen shots from the “Terminator” films.

The specter of autonomous weapons may evoke images of killer robots, but most applications are likely to be decidedly more pedestrian. Indeed, while there are certainly risks involved, the potential benefits of artificial intelligence on the battlefield — to soldiers, civilians and global stability — are also significant.

The authors of the letter liken A.I.-based weapons to chemical and biological munitions, space-based nuclear missiles and blinding lasers. But this comparison doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.

More here.