San Mateo Supervisor to Introduce Resolution Against ‘Killer Robots’

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DALY CITY — Stop killer robots.

San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa hopes to do just that as he introduces a new resolution Tuesday, which urges Congress and the United Nations to restrict development weapons that can kill without human involvement.

“Killer robots are no longer just the stuff of science fiction. In fact, rapid advances in artificial intelligence and robotics could lead to humans giving up control of lethal force decisions in the very near future. That should be absolutely frightening to all of us,” Supervisor Canepa said in a news release from his office.

Last month, the United Nations agreed to have discussions on possibly setting limits on such weapons.

Advocacy groups warned about the threats posed by such “killer robots” and aired a chilling, fictional video illustrating their possible uses on the sidelines of the first formal U.N. meeting of government experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems this week. More than 80 countries took part.

The video was produced by UC Berkeley computer science professor and artificial intelligence researcher Stuart Russell. Russell and the Future of Life Institute have written a letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapons.

U.N. officials say in theory, these fully autonomous, computer-controlled weapons don’t exist yet but defining exactly what killer robots are and how much human interaction is involved was a key focus of the meeting. The United States argued that it was “premature” to establish a definition.

The concept alone stirs the imagination and fears, as dramatized in Hollywood futuristic or science-fiction films that have depicted uncontrolled robots deciding on their own about firing weapons and killing people.

Indian Ambassador to the U.N. Amandeep Gill, who chaired November’s meeting, played down such concerns.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: The robots are not taking over the world. So that is good news, humans are still in charge … We have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue,” he said.

Some top academics like Stephen Hawking, technology experts such as Tesla founder Elon Musk and human rights groups have warned about the threats posed by artificial intelligence, amid concerns that it might one day control such systems — and perhaps sooner rather than later.

“The bottom line is that governments are not moving fast enough” said Steven Goose, executive director of arms at Human Rights Watch. He said a treaty by the end of 2019 is “the kind of timeline we think this issue demands.”

Meanwhile, back in California, Supervisor Canepa will introduce his resolution on Tuesday.