Fears that so-called killer robots could be used by terrorist groups to kill people have prompted more than 100 tech leaders to call on the United Nations to ban them.
The business leaders, from 24 countries, say the technology for lethal autonomous weapons is being developed quickly and could threaten world security.
They have signed an open letter to the UN, which will be released at the world’s biggest conference on artificial intelligence in Melbourne today.
“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” the letter states.
“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend.
“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
“We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”
Professor Toby Walsh, an expert on artificial intelligence (AI) from the University of New South Wales, said many in the tech industry were worried autonomous weapons were already being developed for use on land, sea and in the air.
“They will completely destabilise the current world order,” he said.
“But it’s at best a few years, a decade at most, away, and there are already prototypes in all the spheres of battle.”
Professor Walsh said it was the first time robotics and AI companies had come together to speak out on the issue.
They wanted the UN to establish a treaty banning the weapons, he said.
“There is an arms race going to happen with these technologies,” he said.
“You can already see the beginnings of that and the UN should act with urgency on this matter.”
The UN has set up an expert government group to look at lethal autonomous weapons systems.
Signatories include Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, head of applied AI at Google’s DeepMind Mustafa Suleyman and Universal Robotics chief executive Esben Østergaard.