Don’t worry, you’re not the only one concerned AI will lead to killer robots


Turns out the question everyone was thinking but felt too afraid to ask has been on the minds of some of Canada’s leading experts, too.

An open letter written by five of Canada’s experts in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) research is currently making the online rounds. The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, asks the Canadian government to address the danger of lethal autonomous weapons (aka “killer robots”). Essentially, it argues that Canada should stand up against weaponing AI.

The letter was penned by two of Montreal’s own: Yoshua Bengio,the Canada Research Chair in Statistical Learning Algorithms at Université de Montréal, and Doina Precup, the Canada Research Chair in Machine Learning at McGill University and recently appointed head of DeepMind’s new AI lab in Montreal.

The letter was also signed by: Geoffrey Hinton, Engineering Fellow, Google and Chief Scientific Advisor, The Vector Institute; Rich Sutton, AITF Chair in Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence, University of Alberta; and Ian KerrCanada Research Chair in Ethics, Law and Technology, University of Ottawa.

“As members of the Canadian AI research community, we wish to thank you for your interest in the broad field of artificial intelligence and the remarkable investment that Canada is making in AI research and innovation,” begins the letter.

It goes on to applaud the advancement and evolution of AI, including the renewed ambition to build machines that can complete complex tasks with little to no human supervision, before turning to the moral dilemmas at hand.

“Proliferating applications already underpin a growing variety of products for consumers, for the improvement of infrastructure, transportation, education, health, the arts, the military, medicine, and for businesses. AI is of transformative significance. The transformations—actual and potential—demand our understanding and, increasingly, our heightened moral attention.”

“Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove  meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line. To this end, we ask Canada to announce its support for the call to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems at the upcoming United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).”

Taking a leading position on the world stage, the letter argues, would allow Canada to reclaim its “position of moral leadership”, something we haven’t held since the Ottawa Treaty of 1996, the international ban on landmines initiated by then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lloyd Axworthy. Whom, the letter takes pleasure in pointing out, was first appointed to the federal cabinet by Trudeau’s father.

It also “urges [him] to take a strong and leading position against Autonomous Weapon Systems on the international stage at the upcoming November 2017 CCW meetings at the United Nations.”

The list already has more than 200 signatures, but you can still express your concern regarding eventual machine domination by adding your name here.


Photo by Andy Kelly on Unsplash

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