Why are Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and other Experts Calling for a Ban on Artificial Intelligence?

The world’s leading experts and pioneers on artificial intelligence, led by the likes of Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Steve Wozniak, and thousands of others are calling for a ban on a particular group of AI-enabled technologies. To be sure, they are not raising their voices against AI itself, which they believe has immense potential benefits for the humanity. They are specifically against the weaponization of AI, which, they argue, can have a perilous effect on all of us.

A New Kind of Arms Race

The development of AI-controlled weapons will be the biggest paradigm shift in how the world will view armed conflict. The removal of soldiers from the picture will dramatically bring down the threshold for escalation of conflict. The AI-controlled weapons will be able to search, locate, and target enemies with absolutely no assistance from the humans. They will also be able to operate at timescales that are too fast for human comprehension. In other words, AI-controlled weapons will be a game-changer for any country that creates them. They will be able to fight their enemies with literally zero casualties. Isn’t that the greatest thing to happen? After all, with the machines taking over the war, millions of soldiers’ lives will be saved. Well, the war is never so simple. Visionaries like Elon Musk point out a major flaw in this thinking. With AI-controlled weapons deployed in the battlefield, the leaders of the world need not worry about the deaths of their own soldiers. This means that it will be far easier for them to justify wars to their populace. The threshold for war will plummet. With fewer lives at stake, in a twist of irony, more and more lives will be put to stake by the leaders. Instead of millions, billions of people will die.

Why The Urgency Now?

The answer is a new arms race is upon us. Unlike what most people think, AI-controlled weapons are not decades away into the future. At best, they are just a few years away, if not already here. Take for instance the UK’s Taranis drone. The country is developing a new drone that is capable of carrying out air-to-air and air-to-ground strikes. UK’s BAE Systems have already tested a preliminary design in 2013, and expect it to be operational by 2030. Similarly, Russia’s Uran-9 unmanned combat ground vehicle, US’s autonomous warship, the Sea Hunter, and many more are expected to be operational sooner than we would think. When that happens, it will create a new arms race between the countries, just like gun powder and nuclear weapons did. It is only a matter of time before AI weapons fall in the hands of terrorists, dictators, warlords, militants, and other groups that will use them for assassinations ethnic cleansing, subjugation of populations, and more. Once this arms race starts, the chain reaction that it will spawn will grow at an uncontrollable pace. As the founders of various AI companies put it, “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”