Earlier this month, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group made a low-key announcement with frightening implications. The company revealed it had developed a range of combat robots that are fully automated and used artificial intelligence to identify targets and make independent decisions. The revelation rekindled the simmering, and controversial, debate over autonomous weaponry and asked the question, at what point do we hand control of lethal weapons over to artificial intelligence?
In 2015, over one thousand robotics and artificial intelligence researchers, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, signed an open letter urging the United Nations to impose a ban on the development and deployment of weaponized AI. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly though, and the UN didn’t respond until December 2016. The UN has now formally convened a group of government experts as a step towards implementing a formal global ban, but realistically speaking this could still be several years away.
The fully-automated Kalashnikov
While the United Nations are currently forming a group to discuss the possibility of introducing a potential ban on AI-controlled weaponry, Russia is already about to demonstrate actual autonomous combat robots. A few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group, infamous for inventing the AK-47, known as the most effective killing machine in human history, came the following announcement:W