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Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking Join Call for Ban on Artificially Intelligent Weapons

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Physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk have joined scores of artificial intelligence and robotics experts calling for a ban on “offensive autonomous weapons” in an open letter published Monday.

“AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is–practically if not legally–feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high,” reads the letter, which the Guardian reports will be presented Wednesday at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires. “Autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”

The letter distinguishes AI weapons, which can select and attack targets without human orders, from drones and cruise missiles whose targets are selected by humans. The letter also says that while artificial intelligence can make war zones safer for members of the military, weapons that can operate without human control would kick off “a global AI arms race.”

“It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators,” and other bad actors, the signatories warn. “There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.”

Other signees include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak as well as DeepMind founder and Google executive Demis Hassabis.

See the Most Iconic Artificial Intelligence in Film

Brigitte Helm In 'Metropolis'
False Maria – Metropolis, 1927Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The movie "2001: A Space Odyssey", directed by Stanley Kubrick. Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke. The camera eye of the HAL 9000 computer on Discovery One spaceship. Initial theatrical release April 6, 1968. Screen capture. © 1968 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Credit: © 1968 MGM / Flickr / Courtesy Pikturz.Image intended only for use to help promote the film, in an editorial, non-commercial context.
HAL 9000 – 2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968MGM
R2D2 – Star Wars, 1977Lucasfilm
Star Wars (1977)Directed by George LucasShown: Anthony Daniels (as C-3PO)
Tron – Tron, 1982Buena Vista
WOPR/Joshua – WarGames, 1983Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Dot Matrix – Spaceballs, 1987MGM
Johnny 5 – Short Circuit 2, 1988TriStar
The Terminator – Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991TriStar
T-1000 – Terminator 2: Judgement Day, 1991TriStar
Agent Smith in The Matrix, 1999Warner Bros.
Andrew Martin – Bicentennial Man, 1999Touchstone Pictures
David – A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001Warner Bros.
Gigolo Joe – A.I. Artificial Intelligence, 2001Warner Bros.
Sonny – I, Robot, 200420th Century Fox
Marvin – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, 2005Touchstone Pictures
Optimus Prime – Transformers, 2007DreamWorks
Wall-E – Wall-E, 2008Pixar/Disney
Samantha – Her, 2013Warner Bros.

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com