Rise of the Killer Robots

Rise of the Killer Robots & Why We Need to Stop Them  by Professor Toby Walsh

The rise of the killer robots — and why we need to stop them

By Professor Toby Walsh

Updated 10:33 AM ET, Mon October 26, 2015
Killer robots are, at best, only a few years away, writes Toby Walsh

Walsh: The end point of an arms race is precisely the sort of terrifying technology you see in “Terminator”

Toby Walsh is Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales and research group leader at Data61, Australia’s centre of excellence for information and communications technology research in Sydney, Australia. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)Lethal autonomous weapons (or as the media like to call them, “killer robots”) were back on the agenda at the U.N. last week. The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots launched in 2013, and pleasingly the issue was quickly taken up by the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) in Geneva.

I’ve spent my life working on artificial intelligence (AI), and there are many reasons why I am fearful of the development of killer robots. Here’s five of them.

1. Killer robots are near

You might be thinking of “Terminator” — a robot which, if you believe the movie, will be available in 2029. But the reality is that killer robots will be much simpler to begin with and are, at best, only a few years away. Think Predator drone and its aptly named Hellfire missiles, but with the human controller replaced by a computer program. This is technically possible today.

2. There will be an arms race

Once this genie is out of the bottle, there will be an arms race to improve on the initially rather crude robots. And the end point of such an arms race is precisely the sort of terrifying technology you see in “Terminator.” Hollywood got that part right.

Moore’s Law predicts that computer chips double in size every two years. We’re likely to see similar exponential growth with killer robots. I vote to call this “Schwarzenegger’s Law” to remind us of where it will end.

3. Killer robots will proliferate

Killer robots will be cheap. And they’ll only get cheaper. Just look at the speed with which drones have dropped in price over the last few years. They’ll also be easy to make, at least crudely.

Get yourself a quadcopter, and add a smartphone and a gun or a small bomb. Then all you need is someone like me to write you some AI software. And the military will love them, at least at first, as they don’t need sleep or rest, long and expensive training, or evacuation from the battlefield when damaged.

However, once the military start having to defend themselves against killer robots, they might change their mind.

4. Killer robots will be killing lots of civilians

According to The Intercept, during a five-month stretch of a 2011-3 U.S. military operation against the Taliban and al Qaeda in the Hindu Kush, “nearly nine out of 10 people” who died in drone strikes “were not the Americans’ direct targets.”

This is when we still have a human in the loop, making that final life or death decision. The current state of the art in AI does not approach the situational awareness, or decision-making of a human drone pilot.

The statistics for a fully autonomous drone will therefore likely be even worse.

Over time, they’ll get better and I fully expect them to equal if not exceed human pilots. Different arguments then come into play. For example, killer robots will surely fall into wrong hands, including people who have no qualms at using them against civilians. They are a perfect weapon of terror. Killer robots will also lower the barriers to war. By further distancing us from the battlefield, they’ll turn war into a very real video game.

5. Killer robots will be hard to regulate

Tesla updates their Model S car to drive autonomously on the highway with a simple software update delivered over the air. We have to expect therefore that simple software updates will in the future be able to turn systems that are either not autonomous or not lethal into lethal autonomous weapons. This is going to make it very hard to control killer robots.

And we are going to want the technologies that go into killer robots. They are much the same technologies that go into autonomous cars, most of which already exist. Each year, roughly 30,000 people die on the roads of the United States, and 1.2 million worldwide. This statistic will plummet once autonomous cars are common.

But just because something is going to be hard, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. And even a ban that is partially effective, like that for anti-personnel mines, is going to be worth having.

My view that we need to regulate killer robots to prevent an arms race — and the view that we need to act quickly is shared by many others in the know. An open letter calling for such a ban was released in July this year.

The signatures include many leading researchers in AI and robotics, the CEOs of Google’s DeepMind, Facebook’s AI Research Lab, and the Allen Institute for AI, as well as thousands of others from around the world.

In November, the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons meets again in Geneva to decide whether to continue with this issue, and whether to take the next step forwards towards a ban. For the world’s sake, I hope they do.

Grigg Back On Our Feet

Hi. My name is Tonya Grigg. I’ve decided to create a GoFundMe account (http://www.gofundme.com/GriggBackOnOurFeet) despite it going against our pride, but we need help getting back on our feet.

I lost my job in January 2014 while I was out on medical leave due to knee surgery for a torn meniscus. Since then, I have only been able to pick up odds and ends, despite applying and interviewing with numerous companies.

For the past 15 years, my husband, has had chronic lower back pain that has gotten progressively worse.  

His most painful time has been within the past 3 years–with most excruciating pain. During this time, my husband has had lower back pain radiating from his back through to his hip.

We’ve seen many doctors, including hip, back, and knee specialists. Neither could determine what is wrong nor find/figure out the source of my husband’s pain. We’ve even tried a few lumbar spine injections to no avail.

February 2015, my husband underwent a hip scope surgery. He has successfully recovered with help of physical therapy, but still has excruciating lower back pain.

We have since been referred to a Spinal surgeon, whom has determined my husband has what is known as a bilateral pars defect associated with spondylitic spondylolisthesis and degenerative disc disease. This basically means that my husband has no main, stable support in his lower back.

The treatment is for my husband to have spinal fusion surgery with bone graft and is totally unable to work. This surgery will place steel rods and screws in his spine for stability. The recovery time is upwards of a year and will take an additional 3-5 years for his spine to become fully solid. He will be trading his current pain for after-surgery pain.

It’s hearbreaking to me to see the positive, outgoing, willing-to-help-anyone, stand-up guy I married have to go through this pain.

He has lost 2 jobs, his career, his place to live (yes, we now need to move within the next year). Yes we are not in the best of situations. That is why we need your help.

Donations will go toward us getting back on our feet via medical supplies needed to heal, transportation, physical therapy, etc. Whatever amount can be spared–be it $1, $5, $25, or $125–is truly, absolutely appreciated and will be remembered.


Steve Miller’s Huntington’s Disease Charity Walk 🚶

Our friend, Steve Miller (No, not the rock group) posted this yesterday, September 14, 2015 on his Facebook page.  Please read the following–his story–and help if you can:

I have a little less than 1 week until my Huntington’s Disease charity walk and I am only half way to my goal. I am walking in memory of my aunt who passed away in March. I would be extremely grateful for your support. 

Literally every dollar makes a difference. Please follow this link to make a donation. See below for how every dollar donated to this charity is spent. Your contribution can be extremely powerful! Thank you, friends! 


$1 Sends a Fast Facts Information Packet to a newly diagnosed HD patient. 

$5 Provides a Law Enforcement Tool Kit to educate Law Enforcement Officials or First Responders about how to recognize HD and how to resolve potentially dangerous situations. 

$50 Funds one monthly volunteer-led HD Caregiver support group.

$100 Supports a Social Worker-led HD Patient support group for one month. 

$250 Allows an HD family of four to attend a local Education Conference. 

$500 Pays a licensed Social Worker to cover a local HD Phone Helpline for one month. 

$1,000 Funds an HD Advocate’s trip to Washington, DC to meet with Senators and Representatives to voice support for the HD Parity Act as part of Advocacy Day. 

$2,500 Pays for an HD patient and caregiver to attend the Annual HDSA National Convention.

$5,000 Funds a Don King Summer Research Fellowship for a young investigator researching basic HD biology in conjunction with an established HD researcher. 

$10,000 Sponsors the National Youth Alliance (NYA) Day at the HDSA National Convention.
$50,000 funds an HDSA Center of Excellence for one year.

$75,000 Supports Research by funding an HD Human Biology Project researcher for one year.



Escape from Jonestown


Julia Scheeres | A Thousand Lives | 26 minutes (6,304 words)

Download .mobi (Kindle)Download .epub (iBooks)

For our latest Longreads Exclusive, we’re proud to share Julia Scheeres’ adaptation of her book, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown, which tells the story of five people who lived in Jonestown at the time of the infamous massacre, which occurred 36 years ago, on Nov. 18, 1978.

This story also includes home movies—never before released publicly—from inside Jonestown. The footage, discovered after the massacre, includes tours of the compound by Jim Jones and interviews with many of those who lived and died there. You can view the entire series of clips at YouTube.com/Longreads.

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Words Not To Say In Front Of My Kids

Dysfunctional Literacy

I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they'd better not say. (image via wikimedia) I tell my kids they can think anything they want, but there are some things they’d better not say. (image via wikimedia)

I told my daughters this morning that they’d need to take a sack lunch to school tomorrow, and they laughed at me.  I wasn’t expecting them to laugh.

It took me a moment to realize why they thought sack lunch was funny.  When I was their age (around 35 years ago), sack lunch wasn’t funny.  I carried a sack lunch to school every day, and nobody laughed.  I think I even called it a sack lunch.  Everybody called it that.  But somewhere along the way, kids picked up on the word sack, and a new source of humor was created.

Now I can’t say sack in front of my daughters; I have to say “brown paper bag.”  If I had two sons, maybe it wouldn’t matter much.  But…

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Scary and Revolutionary: 8 Films That Helped Define the Horror Genre

The Hudsucker

Norman Bates Psycho Norman Bates from the Hitchcock’s classic. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Horror movies have long been a source of thrills and entertainment for us all, especially around this time of year. While sometimes they can be misconstrued as films that rely on cheap scares and over-the-top monsters in lieu of plot-driven stories, the genre is full of great movies that could satisfy even the staunchest movie buff. From the early days of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff to the “scream queens” and documentary-style scarefests of the last few years, the horror genre has been nothing if not persistently popular.

It would be hard to rank any one film as having the most impact on the film making side, especially considering the genre has so many sub-genres within itself. However, there are a select few that have helped to definitively shape the horror culture as a whole.

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The Beauty of Female Comedians


“I’ve always loved independent women, outspoken women, eccentric women, funny women, flawed women.”

So begins Diane Keaton in her book of essays Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty

Diane fits effortlessly into the eccentric and outspoken categories, and I place myself dead center as a flawed woman. Hub says he married me for my quirky sense of funny and my independent spirit.

Diane and I – we’ve got it covered.

Diane writes of her admiration for women in the entertainment arts who thrive without becoming slaves to our beauty and youth-obsessed culture. She celebrates groundbreaking female comedians Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers. Each made her mark using satire to deride her own physical flaws or multiple cosmetic surgeries.

I thought about which female comedians influenced me as they had Diane – women not deemed beautiful by societal norms who exaggerated their own physical features, using their comedic timing to create…

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