A couple of decades ago, the idea of autonomous killing machines being an actual problem seemed like a thing of science-fiction. 1984's The Terminator has captivated audiences since its release, with its portrayal of what things could look like if robots take over. Today, you can't avoid a Skynet reference when someone talks about artificial intelligence gone wrong.
The world has changed a lot since the release of The Terminator (and even Terminator 2), and if we're not in the time where this kind of thing could actually be a reality, it's coming soon. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has been at the forefront of warning the world of this risk, and over the past couple of years, those warnings have only become more emphasized. He's had some resistance, however, even from fellow billionaire Mark Zuckerberg.
When Musk founded the OpenAI research firm, he made it a point to begin drafting up rules and pleas to make sure governments the world over take these warnings seriously. He's far from being one of the few now.
Today, Musk and a huge group of like-minded experts have signed an open letter to the United Nations Convention discussing the need to take the looming threat seriously. If you need a reality check, here's a key excerpt:
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.
The letter has a simple goal: group together to prevent the kind of madness that autonomous weapons would create, through an outright ban, avoiding the "third age of war". It shouldn't be hard to find agreement on this, but what will really matter is what's put into practice. The time to take this looming threat seriously is definitely right now.