Universities should help prevent development of killer robots

February 27, 2020

Universities around the world are at risk of contributing, intentionally or by accident, to the development of lethal autonomous weapons, also known as killer robots. In a new research project, PAX is starting a conversation with students, scientists and universities about how to deal with this risk.

This risk is more real and urgent than some might think, as is clear from the example of the cooperation between the Australian ministry of Defense and 2 universities. The Universities of New South Wales and Queensland are working on a AUD 9 million (EUR 5,5 million) research project into how ethics can be programmed into autonomous weapons systems. However, morality and ethics are always context dependent and there is no golden, universally applicable rule of what is ethically right, let alone that it would be possible to teach an algorithm to make ethical choices. These types of research projects are therefore a dangerous step towards normalizing the idea that it would be acceptable for robots to take decisions over life and death.

Universities should take measures to evaluate the societal impacts of their research projects, especially in cases where they cooperate with the military or defense companies. There are a lot of open questions about what the future impacts of artificial intelligence on our societies will be and it is therefore all the more important that students are trained to think through these types of questions.

Together with other members of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, PAX will engage in dialogue with universities, scientists and students. In over 10 countries debates, informational events and other activities will be organized to inform scientific communities about the issue.

We will also ask scientists to join the pledge not to participate in autonomous weapons  initiated by the Future of Life Institute, which is run by physics professor Max Tegmark of the prestigious US university MIT. The pledge has already been signed by over 3000 scientists and experts. See here for the full list of signatories.

Interested in this project?

Check out www.reprogrammingwar.org

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