Professors from top universities and research institutes have come together to demand a ban on the use of lethal autonomous weapons against humans. Citing a recent UN report of a drone airstrike in Libya by a devious Turkish-made weapons system with no known human oversight, they said a chilling future that many thought unlikely is, in fact, already here. They urged the world to act now, before it is too late, to put the “evil Slaughterbots genie” back into the bottle, saying the red line has now been crossed.
The professors said the use of autonomous weapons will create problems that would be bigger than just moral issues about handing over the decisions of human life and death to algorithms. They said their video had pointed out that these weapons will, inevitably, turn into weapons of mass destruction because they don’t require human supervision and can be deployed in vast numbers.
In a blogpost on the US-based Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) magazine’s website, they said that the UN report on the Turkish STM Kargu-2 is the first documented use case of a lethal autonomous weapon system, adding that the window for a preemptive treaty has now passed. They said the International Committee of the Red Cross, too, concurs with their position to prohibit the use of autonomous weapons to target humans.
“It may not be too late to put the evil ‘Slaughterbots’ genie back in the bottle, if the world acts now,” they added.
The Turkish drone STM Kargu-2 weighs just 7kg and is said to remain fully operational even if GPS and other radio links are jammed. It is equipped with facial recognition software to target humans. The UN report said that the lethal autonomous weapons systems used in Libya in the spring of 2020 were “programmed to attack targets without requiring data connectivity between the operator and the munition”.
The writers of the blog are Professors Stuart Russell and Anthony Aguirre, from the University of California in Berkeley and Santa Cruz, respectively; Emilia Javorsky, a physician-scientist; and MIT Professor Max Tegmark. They represent the nonprofit research organisation Future of Life Institute.
The professors said the institute had released an 8-minute-long video “Slaughterbots” in 2017 to highlight the dangers of increasing use of autonomous weapons, but those concerns were dismissed at the time as “science fiction” and a “piece of propaganda.” Four years later, they added, reality has made a case for them.