Killer robot developers promise not to develop killer robots

After years of scaring the pants off of the world’s human population with plans which obviously seemed designed to change the Terminator movies into documentaries, the larger companies working on developing artificial intelligence (AI) seem to have gotten the message. Thousands of researchers from more than 160 tech companies recently signed on to a pledge saying they wouldn’t support the creation of killer robots. To put it in slightly more technical terms, they were rejecting the development of autonomous machines with the ability to kill human beings. The first obvious question is… that wasn’t already a thing? But in any event, the agreement has been made so I’m sure you can all sleep better tonight, right? (NY Post)

Over 160 companies working in artificial intelligence have signed a pledge not to develop lethal autonomous weapons.

The pledge, which was signed by 2,400 individuals including representatives from Google DeepMind, the European Association for AI and University College London, says that signatories will “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons.”

The pledge was announced by Max Tegmark, president of the Future of Life Institute, which organized the effort.

All sorts of AI eggheads who signed the agreement were offering quotes about how important this is. One of them stated that decisions over life and death can not be handed off to machines because “they do not have the ethics to do so.” That’s a fairly solid assumption as far as I can tell. How can we predict what the “ethics” of an autonomous machine intelligence would be or even if the concept of ethics would have any meaning to it?

None of this spells the end of the development of either AI or increasingly powerful robots. In fact, we’re still wrestling with the question of whether or not artificial intelligence might be developing itself. Some of the experts studying AI and all it portends in university settings have placed the chances that artificial intelligence has already arisen but not revealed itself to us as high as 20%. Others who don’t think it’s happened yet give us roughly 50 years at the outside before AI will be on the verge of taking over. The technology has already established beachheads everywhere, including in our homes. The vacuum cleaners, the televisions and the refrigerators are already talking to each other. In many smart homes, the software can lock the doors on you. (Keeping you either in or out.) All it needs is the “brains” to come in over the Internet of Things.

Of course, a pledge such as this sounds great on paper, but it comes with some inherent flaws. What if somebody changes their mind and decides that there’s some good money to be made with autonomous mechanized soldiers? And then there’s the fact that not everybody has signed the pledge. In fact, the people who might be most likely to cause this sort of disaster are probably the ones who would be least likely to sign it.

Allow me to give you an example. You know who didn’t take the pledge? Boston Dynamics. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a hundred times. When the robot revolution comes to destroy us all, it will begin with mechanical nightmares crashing through the doors of Boston Dynamics. Have you seen what they’ve been up to with their robot dog called SpotMini?

Take a look at this video and tell me if it doesn’t make you want to move off the grid immediately. At the very end of the video, after what seems to be the closing credit screen, they’ve inserted what I assume was meant to be a humorous “blooper” where the robot dog is supposed to get a beer out of the fridge and bring it to its human master. Watch that scene and picture just how wrong it could go from there.

The people signing the pledge seem to be talking primarily about robotic soldiers or “thinking tanks.” But AI really doesn’t need any guns. Those robotic dogs in that video could squash your skull like a grape if they ever woke up and decided they didn’t feel like cleaning up your apartment after your next party. (And if you skipped the video, yes… the robot dog is loading the dishwasher and tossing out the trash in the apartment.) And the vacuum cleaner already told the dog your daily schedule.