Lombardi: AI thinkers can't duck the ethics debate on autonomous weapons

Earlier this summer, Yoshua Bengio, the McGill-based Artificial Intelligence pioneer and one of the world’s leading authorities on neural networks and machine-learning, added his name to a growing global list of experts and laboratories in the field that are pledging to have no role in the creation of what are called “lethal autonomous weapons” (LAWs). The signatories’ premise is as benign as it is unsound: that machines must never be given the authority to decide when to take a life.

While Bengio and other leaders in the AI community are nobly intentioned, their pledge is at best an attempt to slam the barn door after the horse has bolted, and at worst an invitation to cede ethical decision-making on the future of warfare to rogue and oppressive regimes in the international system.

The contention by Bengio and others that machines have no part to play in life or death choices is a curious one, given how many of these same experts are currently plying their trade in the race to build the first truly roadworthy autonomous, or self-driving, vehicle.

Self-driving cars will indeed be many times safer than human drivers – but it is a certainty that they will still kill people. Self-driving cars will be forced to make ethical decisions surrounding life and death that inherently prioritize some lives over others. In preparation for this reality, these same members of the AI community are rightly engaged in robust debates about the ethical dilemmas that their self-driving cars will face. Yet when it comes to warfare, a similarly inevitable field for AI proliferation, they choose to abdicate a necessary dialogue around ethics in the naïve hope that the question itself can be forestalled indefinitely.

Self-driving cars will indeed be many times safer than human drivers – but it is a certainty that they will still kill people.

In theatres of war around the globe, however, varying degrees of rapidly advancing autonomous technologies such as computer vision are already in use in weapons systems. Most advanced militaries use semi-autonomous systems in air defences, to detect and disrupt enemy missile fire, for instance. A sentry gun that fires autonomously has long been deployed by South Korea on its side of the DMZ. These are but a few examples of weapons systems that are already pushing boundaries – in some cases, quite literally – while changing the facts on the ground when it comes to machines participating in life or death choices.

Once AI research is published, it is impossible to control how it is used. Thus, the nature of potential technological applications makes its use in weapons systems inevitable by rogue international regimes. Countries such as Iran and North Korea, that were able to surmount massive obstacles such as sourcing technical expertise, building security apparatuses, and securing funding, to develop nuclear weapons, will face no such barriers in getting their hands on LAWs. It will be far too easy in the near future for conventional weapons to be upgraded with a simple white-labelled AI purchased online.

Rather than advocating a ban or pledging never to participate in the development of something that is already a reality, Bengio and other leading minds must understand that the development of a robust ethical framework for LAWs is the only viable path forward. Influencing the dialogue on ethical questions and international standards requires early engagement in the development of the underlying technologies that will be used in these weapons systems by leading thinkers such as Bengio. Without his voice and others, the construction of a framework for oversight in the use of AI in warfare will be lesser, and all of humankind will be worse off.

Matthew Lombardi is a Senior Fellow at theCanadian International Council. He specializes in the role of emerging technologies in foreign affairs

lfpress.com
Lombardi autonomous weapons
If you notice an error, highlight the text you want and press Ctrl + Enter to report it to the editor
3 views in december
I recommend
No recommendations yet

Comments

Post your comment to communicate and discuss this article.

Society
Josh Kirkpatrick moved home, married his high school sweetheart in September and stepped away from the demanding sport to hit a personal reset button. Curtis Thorner performs squats under the guidance of Olympic bobsledder and trainer Josh Kirkpatrick at Total Package Hockey on Wednesday.  Josh Kirkpatrick will always own one of the best discovery stories in sports history. He was playing in a rec league slo-pitch game when he met a Bobsleigh Canada coach,...
Society
Temperatures are plummeting in Sweden, making life harder than ever for homeless people. Stockholm is trying to help by swapping commercial adverts with billboards that signpost nearby shelters. In Stockholm, winter has struck, and temperatures are dropping rapidly. Amid near-freezing conditions, a new emergency system is being displayed in the city’s digital billboards. Its purpose is to guide homeless people to the nearest shelter. Behind the initiative...
Crime
A young man has been knifed repeatedly in a horrific broad daylight attack outside a north London station. Police and paramedics were called to the scene in Kentish Townshortly after 3pm on Monday. They found a 20-year-old man suffering from stab injuries. He was rushed to hospital. Video footage posted on social media showed a police cordon in place on Prince of Wales Road, next to Kentish Town West station. Former Camden councillor Matt Sanders said on T...
Crime
A "jealous" husband who murdered his estranged wife after she rejected the offer of spending "one last" night with him has been jailed for 16 years. Martin Cavanagh, of Chatterton Road, Bromley, was handed the jail term on Monday at the Old Bailey after being found guilty of murder by a jury - writes standard.co.uk The court heard the 35-year-old was “controlling and possessive” towards victim Sophie Cavanagh, 31. Jurors were told he sabotaged her Match.co...
Society
A man who survived 12 years in a children's home blighted by a "paedophile ring" told a public inquiry how he cowered under his bed most nights as he called on the council who ran it to apologise to him directly. Paul Connolly, 56, spent 12 years living at St Leonard's Children's Home in Hornchurch while staff routinely attacked boys in their care. Mr Connolly this week told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse how he arrived just before his eig...
Society
U.S. lawmakers have reached an agreement on the Farm Bill that drops a proposal to tighten food stamps restrictions backed by President Donald Trump, and are looking to vote on it this week, according to congressional staffers. Attendees wait in line to enter the 2018 Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, U.S., August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jordan Gale The agreement between Republicans and Democrats on the crucial piece of legislation caps a months-long bitter deb...
Society
Historic black and white images give a glimpse inside London's abandoned central London Tube stations which still survive to this day. Londoners are being given the chance to explore inside sealed-off stations including Aldwych and the Jubilee line branch of Charing Cross this winter. Though all tickets for these stations were snapped up within hours of being released, additional tours are expected next year. Remarkable photographs show the escalators lead...
Society
Protesters will march through central London for a pro-Brexit rally backed by English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson and Ukip's leader. Several thousand people are expected to descend on the streets of the capital this Sunday to demand that there is no “betrayal” over Britain’s exit from the European Union. The rally will take place just three days before parliament’s crucial vote on Theresa May's deal. Almost 4,000 people have said they are going o...
Society
Westminster council has launched an inquiry into discrimination and “body-shaming” at nightclubs in the heart of the capital. Officials have revealed a “task group” has been created to look into the problem following recent reports of discriminatory door policies, including at exclusive clubs in areas such as Mayfair. Body image and anti-discrimination campaigners today welcomed the move after a series of cases of alleged racism and “fat-shaming” were high...