Mines Action Canada welcomes the letter calling for a ban on the weaponization of Artificial Intellegence (AI) from the Canadian AI research community which was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. This letter follows a number of international letters in recent years (from faith leaders, scientists, Nobel laureates, company founders and others) addressed either to the UN or the global community in support of actions to prevent the development of autonomous weapons.
“This letter is evidence that Canadian AI community wants to see leadership from Canada,” said Paul Hannon, Executive Director, Mines Action Canada. “Clearly Canada should become the 20th country to call for a pre-emptive ban on autonomous weapons and to lead a process to ensure that autonomous weapons systems never arrive on the battlefield.”
More than 200 AI researchers in Canada signed the open letter to the Prime Minister “calling on you and your government to make Canada the 20th country in the world to take a firm global stand against weaponizing AI. 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 goes further asking “Canada to announce its support for the call to ban lethal autonomous weapons systems at the upcoming United Nations Conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). Canada should also commit to working with other states to conclude a new international agreement that achieves this objective.” One of the letter’s authors, Dr. Ian Kerr of the University of Ottawa wrote an op-ed in the Globe and Mail bringing the letter’s message to Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
Dr. Kerr notes, “it is not often that captains of industry, scientists and technologists call for prohibitions on innovation of any sort, let alone an outright ban. But the Canadian AI research community is clear: We must not permit AI to target and kill without meaningful human control. Playing Russian roulette with the lives of others can never be justified. The decision on whether to ban autonomous weapons goes to the core of our humanity.”
This letter has been released one week before the international community meets under the auspices of the CCW to discuss the issue of autonomous weapons systems. Mines Action Canada’s Programme Coordinator, Erin Hunt will be attending the meeting next week in Geneva. She said “in past discussions at the CCW, some states have expressed concern that a prohibition on autonomous weapons systems would have a negative impact on AI research more broadly. This letter and the similar one released by Australian AI experts show that those concerns are misplaced. The AI research community is calling for the opposite – bold and decisive action to prohibit autonomous weapons systems in order to support the development of AI that would benefit humanity.”
Canadians are among the 270 engineers, computing and artificial intelligence experts, roboticists, and professionals from related disciplines who have signed an experts’ call to ban killer robots. The experts say “given the limitations and unknown future risks of autonomous robot weapons technology, we call for a prohibition on their development and deployment. Decisions about the application of violent force must not be delegated to machines.”
The International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC) has thus far received 272 signatures from 37 countries on the statement which continues to collect signatures. In an announcement released today, Professor Noel Sharkey, Chair of ICRAC said “Governments need to listen to the experts’ warnings and work with us to tackle this challenge together before it is too late. It is urgent that international talks get started now to prevent the further development of autonomous robot weapons before it is too late.”
Canada does not currently have a policy on fully autonomous weapons and we hope that the government will engage these experts and others as they create the policy. We expect to see additional signatures from Canadian experts as this issue gains momentum. At present, the University of Toronto has the largest numbers of signatories but experts from other organizations and institutions still have time to sign the call. As the quote below from Geoffrey Hinton indicates now is the time to ensure that artificial intelligence and robotic technologies are used for the betterment of humanity.
“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.”
Geoffrey Hinton FRS, [founding father of modern machine learning] Raymond Reiter Distinguished Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of Toronto