A next revolution in warfare where killer robots, or autonomous
weapons systems, are common in battlefields is about to start.
Both scientists and industry are worried.
The world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics
companies have used a conference in Melbourne to collectively
urge the United Nations to ban killer robots or lethal autonomous
An open letter by 116 founders of robotics and artificial
intelligence companies from 26 countries was launched at the
world’s biggest artificial intelligence conference, the
International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence
(IJCAI), as the UN delays meeting until later this year to
discuss the robot arms race.
Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the
University of New South Wales, released the letter at the opening
of the opening of the conference, the world’s pre-eminent
gathering of experts in artificial intelligence and robotics.
The letter is the first time that AI and robotics companies have
taken a joint stand on the issue. Previously, only a single
company, Canada’s Clearpath Robotics, had formally called for a
ban on lethal autonomous weapons.
In December 2016, 123 member nations of the UN’s Review
Conference of the Convention on Conventional Weapons unanimously
agreed to begin formal talks on autonomous weapons. Of these, 19
have already called for a ban.
“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third
revolution in warfare,” the letter says.
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at
a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans
“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.”
Signatories of the 2017 letter include:
- Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, SpaceX and OpenAI (US)
- Mustafa Suleyman, founder and Head of Applied AI at Google’s
- Esben Østergaard, founder & CTO of Universal Robotics
- Jerome Monceaux, founder of Aldebaran Robotics, makers of Nao
and Pepper robots (France)
- Jü rgen Schmidhuber, leading deep learning expert and founder
of Nnaisense (Switzerland)
- Yoshua Bengio, leading deep learning expert and founder of
Element AI (Canada)
Walsh is one of the organisers of the 2017 letter, as well as an
earlier letter released in 2015 at the IJCAI conference in Buenos
Aires, which warned of the dangers of autonomous weapons.
The 2015 letter was signed by thousands of researchers working in
universities and research labs around the world, and was endorsed
by British physicist Stephen Hawking, Apple co-founder Steve
Wozniak and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky.
“Nearly every technology can be used for good and bad, and
artificial intelligence is no different,” says Walsh.
“It can help tackle many of the pressing problems facing society
today: inequality and poverty, the challenges posed by climate
change and the ongoing global financial crisis. However, the same
technology can also be used in autonomous weapons to
“We need to make decisions today choosing which of these futures
we want. I strongly support the call by many humanitarian and
other organisations for an UN ban on such weapons, similar to
bans on chemical and other weapons,” he added.”
Ryan Gariepy, founder of Clearpath Robotics, says the number of
prominent companies and individuals who have signed this letter
reinforces the warning that this is not a hypothetical scenario
but a very real and pressing concern.
“We should not lose sight of the fact that, 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,” he says.
“The development of lethal autonomous weapons systems is unwise,
unethical and should be banned on an international scale.”
An Open Letter to the United Nations Convention on
Certain Conventional Weapons
As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence
and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous
weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We
warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the
Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a
Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon
Systems. Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer
technical advice to your deliberations. We commend the
appointment of Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India as chair
of the GGE. We entreat the High Contracting Parties participating
in the GGE to work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race
in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to
avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies.
We regret that the GGE’s first meeting, which was due to start
today, has been cancelled due to a small number of states failing
to pay their financial contributions to the UN. We urge the High
Contracting Parties therefore to double their efforts at the
first meeting of the GGE now planned for November.
Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution
in warfare. Once developed, they 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.
We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way
to protect us all from these dangers.
FULL LIST OF SIGNATORIES (by country):
Tiberio Caetano, founder & Chief Scientist at Ambiata,
Mark Chatterton and Leo Gui, founders, MD & of Ingenious AI,
Charles Gretton, founder of Hivery, Australia. Brad Lorge,
founder & CEO of Premonition.io, Australia
Brenton O’Brien, founder & CEO of Microbric, Australia.
Samir Sinha, founder & CEO of Robonomics AI, Australia.
Ivan Storr, founder & CEO, Blue Ocean Robotics,
Peter Turner, founder & MD of Tribotix, Australia.
Yoshua Bengio, founder of Element AI & Montreal Institute for
Learning Algorithms, Canada.
Ryan Gariepy, founder & CTO, Clearpath Robotics, found &
CTO of OTTO Motors, Canada.
James Chow, founder & CEO of UBTECH Rob otics, China.
Robert Li, founder & CEO of Sankobot, China.
Marek Rosa, founder & CEO of GoodAI, Czech Republic.
Søren Tranberg Hansen, founder & CEO of Brainbotics,
Markus Järve, founder & CEO of Krakul, Estonia.
Harri Valpola, founder & CTO of ZenRobotics, founder &
CEO of Curious AI Company, Finland.
Esben Østergaard, founder & CTO of Universal Robotics,
Raul Bravo, founder & CEO of DIBOTICS, France.
Raphael Cherrier, founder & CEO of Qucit, France.
Jerome Monceaux, founder & CEO of Spoon.ai, founder & CCO
of Aldebaran Robotics, France.
Charles Ollion, founder & Head of Research at Heuritech,
Anis Sahbani, founder & CEO of Enova Robotics, France.
Alexandre Vallette, founder of SNIPS & Ants Open Innovation
Marcus Frei, founder & CEO of NEXT.robotics, Germany.
Kirstinn Thorisson, founder & Director of Icelandic Institute
for Intelligence Machines, Iceland.
Fahad Azad, founder of Robosoft Systems, India.
Debashis Das, Ashish Tupate, Jerwin Prabu, founders (incl. CEO )
of Bharati Robotics, India.
Pulkit Gaur, founder & CTO of Gridbots Technologies,
Pranay Kishore, founder & CEO of Phi Robotics Research,
Shahid Memom, founder & CTO of Vanora Robots, India.
Krishnan Nambiar & Shahid Memon, founders, CEO & C TO of
Vanora Robotics, India.
Achu Wilson, founder & CTO of Sastra Robotics, India.
Neill Gernon, founder & MD of Atrovate, founder of Dublin.AI,
Parsa Ghaffari, founder & CEO of Aylien, Ireland.
Alan Holland, founder & CEO of Keelvar Systems,
Alessandro Prest, founder & CTO of LogoGrab, Ireland.
Alessio Bonfietti, founder & CEO of MindIT, Italy.
Angelo Sudano, founder & CTO of ICan Robotics, Italy.
Shigeo Hirose, Michele Guarnieri, Paulo Debenest, & Nah
Kitano, founders, CEO & Directors of HiBot Corporation,
Luis Samahí García González, founder & CEO of QOLbotics,
Koen Hindriks & Joachim de Greeff, founders, CEO & COO at
Interactive Robotics, the Netherlands.
Maja Rudinac, founder and CEO of Robot Care Systems, the
Jaap van Leeuwen, founder and CEO Blue Ocean Robotics Benelux,
Dyrkoren Erik, Martin Ludvigsen & Christine Spiten, founders,
CEO, CTO & Head of Marketing at BlueEye Robotics,
Sergii Kornieiev, founder & CEO of BaltRobotics,
Igor Kuznetsov, founder & CEO of NaviRobot, Russian
Aleksey Yuzhakov & Oleg Kivokurtsev, founders, CEO & COO
of Promobot, Russian Federation.
Junyang Woon, founder & CEO, Infinium Robotics, former Branch
Head & Naval Warfare Operations Officer, Singapore.
Jasper Horrell, founder of DeepData, South Africa.
Toni Ferrate, founder & CEO of RO – BOTICS, Spain.
José Manuel del Río, founder & CEO of Aisoy Robotics, Spain.
Victor Martin, founder & CEO of Macco Robotics, Spain.
Timothy Llewellynn, founder & CEO of nViso,
Francesco Mondada, founder of K – Team, Switzerland.
Jurgen Schmidhuber, Faustino Gomez, Jan Koutník, Jonathan Masci
& Bas Steunebrink, founders, President & CEO of
Satish Ramachandran, founder of AROBOT, United Arab
Silas Adekunle, founder & CEO of Reach Robotics, UK.
Steve Allpress, founder & CTO of FiveAI, UK.
Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne, founders, CEO & COO of Open
Richard Greenhill & Rich Walker, founders & MD of Shadow
Robot Company, UK.
Nic Greenway, founder of React AI Ltd (Aiseedo), UK.
Daniel Hulme, founder & CEO of Satalia, UK.
Charlie Muirhead & Tabitha Goldstaub, founders & CEO of
Cognitio nX, UK.
Geoff Pegman, founder & MD of R U Robots, UK.
Mustafa Suleyman, founder & Head of Applied AI, DeepMind,
Donald Szeto, Thomas Stone & Kenneth Chan, founders, CTO, COO
& Head of Engineering of PredictionIO, UK.
Antoine Biondeau, founder & CEO of Sentient Technologies,
Brian Gerkey, founder & CEO of Open Source Robotics,
Ryan Hickman & Soohyun Bae, founders, CEO & CTO of
Henry Hu, founder & CEO of Cafe X Technologies, USA.
Alfonso Íñiguez, founder & CEO of Swarm Technology,
Gary Marcus, founder & CEO of Geometric Intelligence
(acquired by Uber), USA.
Brian Mingus, founder & CTO of Latently, USA.
Mohammad Musa, founder & CEO at Deepen AI, USA.
Elon Musk, founder, CEO & CTO of SpaceX, co-founder & CEO
of Tesla Motor, USA.
Rosanna Myers & Dan Corkum, founders, CEO & CTO of Carbon
Erik Nieves, founder & CEO of PlusOne Robotics, USA.
Steve Omohundro, founder & President of Possibility Research,
Jeff Orkin, founder & CEO, Giant Otter Technologies,
Dan Reuter, found & CEO of Electric Movement, USA.
Alberto Rizzoli & Simon Edwardsson, founders & CEO of
AIPoly, USA. Dan Rubins, founder & CEO of Legal Robot,
Stuart Russell, founder & VP of Bayesian Logic Inc.,
Andrew Schroeder, founder of WeRo botics, USA.
Gabe Sibley & Alex Flint, founders, CEO & CPO of
Martin Spencer, founder & CEO of GeckoSystems, USA.
Peter Stone, Mark Ring & Satinder Singh, founders,
President/COO, CEO & CTO of Cogitai, USA.
Michael Stuart, founder & CEO of Lucid Holdings, USA.
Massimiliano Versace, founder, CEO & President, Neurala Inc,
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