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Autonomous Weapons: an Open Letter from AI & Robotics Researchers

This open letter was announced July 28 at the opening of the IJCAI 2015 conference on July 28. Journalists who wish to see the press release may contact Toby Walsh. Hosting, signature verification and list management are supported by FLI; for administrative questions about this letter, please contact


Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. They might include, for example, armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria, but do not include cruise missiles or remotely piloted drones for which humans make all targeting decisions. Artificial Intelligence (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: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Many arguments have been made for and against autonomous weapons, for example that replacing human soldiers by machines is good by reducing casualties for the owner but bad by thereby lowering the threshold for going to battle. 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. Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group. We therefore believe that a military AI arms race would not be beneficial for humanity. There are many ways in which AI can make battlefields safer for humans, especially civilians, without creating new tools for killing people.

Just as most chemists and biologists have no interest in building chemical or biological weapons, most AI researchers have no interest in building AI weapons — and do not want others to tarnish their field by doing so, potentially creating a major public backlash against AI that curtails its future societal benefits. Indeed, chemists and biologists have broadly supported international agreements that have successfully prohibited chemical and biological weapons, just as most physicists supported the treaties banning space-based nuclear weapons and blinding laser weapons.

In summary, we believe that AI has great potential to benefit humanity in many ways, and that the goal of the field should be to do so. Starting a military AI arms race is a bad idea, and should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons beyond meaningful human control.

The 15178 Open Letter Signatories Include:

2274 AI/Robotics Researcher Signatories:

Stuart Russell Berkeley, Professor of Computer Science, director of the Center for Intelligent Systems, and co-author of the standard textbook “Artificial Intelligence: a Modern Approach"
Nils J. Nilsson, Department of Computer Science, Stanford University, Kumagai Professor of Engineering, Emeritus, past president of AAAI
Barbara J. Grosz Harvard University, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences, former president AAAI, former chair of IJCAI Board of Trustees
Tom Mitchell CMU, past president of AAAI, Fredkin University Professor and Head of the Machine Learning Department
Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Research, Managing director, Microsoft Research, past president of AAAI, co-chair of AAAI Presidential Panel on Long-term AI Futures, member of ACM, IEEE CIS
Martha E. Pollack University of Michigan, Provost, Professor of Computer Science & Professor of Information, past president of AAAI, Fellow of AAAS, ACM & AAAI
Henry Kautz, University of Rochester, Professor of Computer Science, past president of AAAI, member of ACM
Demis Hassabis, Google DeepMind, CEO
Yann LeCun, New York University & Facebook AI Research, Professor of Computer Science & Director of AI Research
Oren Etzioni, Allen Institute for AI, CEO, member of AAAI, ACM
Peter Norvig, Google, Research Director, member of AAAI, ACM
Geoffrey Hinton University of Toronto and Google, Emeritus Professor, AAAI Fellow ...

12904 Other Endorsers:

Stephen Hawking Director of research at the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge, 2012 Fundamental Physics Prize laureate for his work on quantum gravity
Elon Reeve Musk SpaceX, Tesla, Solar City
Steve Wozniak, Apple Inc., Co-founder, member of IEEE CS
Jaan Tallinn co-founder of Skype, CSER and FLI
Frank Wilczek MIT, Professor of Physics, Nobel Laureate for his work on the strong nuclear force
Max Tegmark MIT, Professor of Physics, co-founder of FLI
Daniel C. Dennett, Tufts University, Professor, Co-Director, Center for Cognitive Studies, member of AAAI
Noam Chomsky MIT, Institute Professor emeritus, inductee in IEEE Intelligent Systems Hall of Fame, Franklin medalist in Computer and Cognitive Science
Stephen Goose Director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division
Anthony Aguirre, UCSC, Professor of Physics, co-founder of FLI
Lisa Randall, Harvard, Professor of Physics
Dileep George 
Susan Holden Martin, Lifeboat Foundation, Advisory Board, Robotics/AI
Talulah Riley Actress
Meia Chita-Tegmark Boston University, co-founder of FLI
David W. Martin, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Honorary Fellow
Markus Elsner, Nature Publishing Group, Senior Editor Nature Biotechnology
Torbjörn Tännsjö, Stockholm University, Professor of Philosophy ...

for a full list of signatories, go to