Canada’s AI Experts Backing Ban on Killer Robots

Canada joined a growing international call to put the brakes on developing so-called killer robots.

The country’s leaders in artificial intelligence have urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be vocal about banning lethal uses of AI at the upcoming UN meetings on conventional weapons.

Five Canadian experts in AI delivered an open letter to Trudeau last week with more than 200 signatures from researchers and scientists in the burgeoning field.

“Lethal autonomous weapons systems that remove meaningful human control from determining the legitimacy of targets and deploying lethal force sit on the wrong side of a clear moral line,” the letter reads.

Ian Kerr, professor of ethics, law and technology at the University of Ottawa, led the call to action, along with Geoffrey Hinton, an AI pioneer who leads both Google Brain and the Vector Institute in Toronto, Yoshua Bengio, co-founder of Element AI and head of the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, as well as renowned researchers Rich Sutton and Doina Precup.

“It is not often that captains of industry, scientists and technologists call for prohibitions on innovation of any sort — let alone an outright ban,” said Kerr in a statement. “The Canadian AI research community is clear: we must not permit AI to target or kill without meaningful human control.”

The letter compared Trudeau’s endorsement of a global ban on the weaponization of AI to Canada’s firm stance against landmines in 1996, stating Canada can “reclaim its position of moral leadership on the world stage.”

Kerr explained delegating life-or-death decisions to machines crosses a fundamental moral line, referring to the deadly consequences of “playing Russian roulette with the lives of others.”

“This is not only a fundamental issue of human rights. The decision whether to ban or engage autonomous weapons goes to the core of our humanity,” he said.

The Trudeau government has backed a $125 million investment in AI research and innovation, showing an interest in the rapidly growing field as Canada cements itself as a global AI leader.

“Artificial Intelligence can improve people’s lives in so many ways, but researchers need to push for positive applications of technology by supporting a ban on autonomous weapons systems,” said Hinton.

To coincide with Canada’s letter, Australia’s AI researchers sent a similar letter to their Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In August, 116 technology leaders spanning 26 countries urged the UN to take action against lethal autonomous weapons.