Elon Musk is one of 116 tech experts asking for a UN ban on killer robots

The United Nations should put an outright ban on the development and manufacture of autonomous killing machines, says a group of 116 leading industry figures including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Google's Mustafa Suleyman. The AI and robotics experts have written an open letter to the UN outlining their concerns.

The UN is about to begin a debate on the use of AI, autonomous robots, and weapons - the intention is to try and work out where to draw the line between a computer system that can help lock onto a target and one that can actually take control and start picking targets itself.

According to Musk and his fellow industry experts, developing robots that can kill would open a 'Pandora's box' of dangers for the human race, which is why they should be banned alongside other forbidden tools of war, including chemical weapons and landmines. Development on AI capable of killing humans should be stopped before it can be started, says the open letter.

The third warfare revolution

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," writes the group of company bosses. "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend."

The letter goes on to note the potential use of such killing machines by terrorists and despots, and the way they could eventually be deployed against innocent populations and hacked to create all kinds of uncontrollable problems. "We do not have long to act," warns the letter.

The UN is due to meet again in November to try and clarify its position on AI and weapons, though discussions have already been ongoing for some time

Now that so many figures from the AI field have made their feelings known, we might start to see progress on some rules and regulations.

David Nield
Freelance Contributor

Dave is a freelance tech journalist who has been writing about gadgets, apps and the web for more than two decades. Based out of Stockport, England, on TechRadar you'll find him covering news, features and reviews, particularly for phones, tablets and wearables. Working to ensure our breaking news coverage is the best in the business over weekends, David also has bylines at Gizmodo, T3, PopSci and a few other places besides, as well as being many years editing the likes of PC Explorer and The Hardware Handbook.