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One could debate the overall merits or failings of robotic systems, but one area that clearly has become a point for concern on all sides is the idea of "killer robots." According to robotics pioneer, David Hanson, we are on a collision course with exponential growth in computing and technology that might only give us a "few years" to counter this scenario.
Elon Musk is the latest to proclaim the magnitude of the threat following a reading of Nick Bostrom's book Superintelligence, stating that robots infused with advanced artificial intelligence are "potentially more dangerous than nukes." Stephen Hawking has said much the same, and universities such as Cambridge have said that "terminators" are one of the greatest threats to mankind according to their study program Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.
The above sources do not reflect Luddites and conspiracy-minded individuals. This has led to international human rights groups and concerned citizens to launch a Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. It is a topic being taken up by the United Nations and even the U.S. military itself.
However, it's doubtful that we should expect global bureaucracy and those who profit from war to be the best solution to an imminent problem. For the first time, a robot manufacturer is sounding the alarm and taking a clear stance against the pursuit of these systems. Clearpath Robotics Co-Founder and CTO, Ryan Gariepy, is offering an open letter that is a must-read, as it clearly focuses on ethics - something that consistently has been left out of the equation thus far. Please spread this far and wide so that we can get this debate ramped up as quickly as possible. Once we halt this potential catastrophe, then we can continue debating other aspects of robotics. Please offer your thoughts in the comment section below.
Open Letter from Ryan Gariepy, Co-Founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics
The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots (http://www.stopkillerrobots.org/) was launched in April 2013, bringing the topic of “killer robots” under public scrutiny – and for good reason.
To the people against killer robots: we support you.
This technology has the potential to kill indiscriminately and to proliferate rapidly; early prototypes already exist. Despite our continued involvement with Canadian and international military research and development, Clearpath Robotics believes that the development of killer robots is unwise, unethical, and should be banned on an international scale.
How do we define “killer robot”? Is it any machine developed for military purposes? Any machine which takes actions without human direction? No. We’re referring specifically to “lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS)”; systems where a human does not make the final decision for a machine to take a potentially lethal action.
Clearpath Robotics is an organization that engineers autonomous vehicles, systems, and solutions for a global market. As current leaders in the research and development space for unmanned vehicles, making this kind of statement is a risk. However, given the potentially horrific consequences of allowing development of lethal autonomous robots to continue, we are compelled to insist upon the strictest regulation of this technology.
The Double-Edged Sword
There are, of course, pros and cons to the ethics of autonomous lethal weapons and our team has debated many of them at length. In the end, however, we, as a whole, feel the negative implications of these systems far outweigh any benefits.
Is a computer paired with the correct technology less likely to make rash, stress-driven decisions while under fire? Possibly. Conversely, would a robot have the morality, sense, or emotional understanding to intervene against orders that are wrong or inhumane? No. Would computers be able to make the kinds of subjective decisions required for checking the legitimacy of targets and ensuring the proportionate use of force in the foreseeable future? No. Could this technology lead those who possess it to value human life less? Quite frankly, we believe this will be the case.
This is an incredibly complex issue. We need to have this discussion now and take a stance; the robotics revolution has arrived and is not going to wait for these debates to occur.
Clearpath Robotics strives to improve the lives of billions by automating the world’s dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. This belief does not preclude the use of autonomous robots in the military; we will continue to support our military clients and provide them with autonomous systems – especially in areas with direct civilian applications such as logistics, reconnaissance, and search and rescue.
In our eyes, no nation in the world is ready for killer robots – technologically, legally, or ethically. More importantly, we see no compelling justification that this technology needs to exist in human hands. After all, the development of killer robots isn’t a necessary step on the road to self-driving cars, robot caregivers, safer manufacturing plants, or any of the other multitudes of ways autonomous robots can make our lives better. Robotics is at a tipping point, and it’s up to all of us to decide what path this technology takes.
As a company which continues to develop robots for various militaries worldwide, Clearpath Robotics has more to lose than others might by advocating entire avenues of research be closed off. Nevertheless, we call on anyone who has the potential to influence public policy to stop the development of killer robots before it’s too late.
We encourage those who might see business opportunities in this technology to seek other ways to apply their skills and resources for the betterment of humankind. Finally, we ask everyone to consider the many ways in which this technology would change the face of war for the worse. Voice your opinion and take a stance. #killerrobots
Co-Founder & CTO, Clearpath Robotics
About Clearpath Robotics
Clearpath Robotics, a global leader in unmanned vehicle robotics for research and development, is dedicated to automating the world’s dullest, dirtiest, and deadliest jobs. The Company serves robotics leaders in over 35 countries worldwide in academic, mining, military, agricultural and industrial markets. Recognizing the value of future innovation, the Company proudly supports programs that facilitate growth within the academic disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Clearpath Robotics, winner of the 2012 Robotics Business Review Game Changer Award, provides robust solutions that are engineered for performance and designed for the customer – we are your unmanned experts. Visit Clearpath Robotics at www.clearpathrobotics.com, follow us on Twitter @clearpathrobots or like us on Facebook.
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