After a tweet last week referring to artificial intelligence (AI) as being “vastly more risk[y] than North Korea,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk is now putting his name behind a new initiative that seeks to regulate the nascent technology. Earlier this week, Musk joined over 100 robotics and AI experts in addressing a petition to the United Nations’ Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, urging them to reconsider the development of autonomous weapons. The petition is signed by 116 specialists in total, hailing from the US, UK, China, Australia, India, and other nations.
“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” warned the letter, which was released on Monday. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales 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.”
The letter was released at an AI conference in Melbourne, Australia, timed ahead of UN’s planned discussions on autonomous weapons. The recipient of the request, UN’s Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons, aims to “ban or restrict the use of specific types of weapons that are considered to cause unnecessary or unjustifiable suffering to combatants or to affect civilians indiscriminately.” The letter cautioned authorities that, “once this [the technology’s] Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
While Musk is widely regarded as a businessman who reimagines technology with a view to alter the future course of humanity, the tech entrepreneur’s views on AI are quite clear and unequivocal. Most noticeable among his many recent statements calling for regulations on AI and automation is Musk’s words for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, where the former said that his fellow tech tycoon’s understanding of AI’s threats “is limited.” Musk also co-chairs and has co-funded OpenAI, a non-profit AI research company that believes “AI should be an extension of individual human wills and, in the spirit of liberty, as broadly and evenly distributed as possible.”
According to The Washington Post, in a recent talk with state governers at a National Governors Association meeting, Musk explained his skepticism for AI stating that the emerging tech “could start a war by doing fake news and spoofing email accounts and fake press releases, and just by manipulating information. Or, indeed -as some companies already claim they can do- by getting people to say anything that the machine wants.” Musk isn't the sole tech heavyweight who has qualms about AI- World Wide Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, academician Stephen Hawking, and Microsoft's Bill Gates are a few others who share his concern.