Rise of the machines: Hawking and Musk warn of AI arms race

There's a growing fear that the Terminator movies are on the verge of becoming a lot more prophetic, with experts warning that autonomous weapons are years, not decades, away.

Now Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Steve Wozniak and Noam Chomsky have joined over 1,000 others and signed an open letter that calls for a ban on autonomous military weapons, warning that AI weapons would trigger the third revolution in warfare, following gunpowder and nuclear arms.

The letter addresses the potential for such weapons to reduce human casualties, but raises concerns that their deployment could lower the threshold for going into battle.

The future is not set

It also speculates how such weaponry could be put to use: "Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilising nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.

"The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow."

Earlier this year, Musk donated $10 million to help prevent AI from turning against us, while Hawking has previously warned that technology of this kind could bring about the end of the human race.

Unfortunately, once we start down this path it's unlikely we'll get the chance to send someone back in time to foil Skynet's diabolical scheme.