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Tesla’s Elon Musk. Valentin Flauraud/Bloomberg/Getty

Elon Musk joins the call for a ban on autonomous weapons

Elon Musk has joined a long list of high-profile tech leaders and scientists calling for a ban of autonomous weapons created with artificial intelligence technology.

Musk's is one of many names affixed to an open letter released Monday by the Future of Life Institute (FLI), a Boston-based research organization cofounded by Skype cofounder Jaan Tallinn. The letter addresses the possible future of autonomous weapons, including "armed quadcopters" that rely on artificial intelligence to seek and destroy certain targets without direction from humans (as opposed to existing technologies such as armed drones that are remotely controlled by humans). FLI warns that such AI-controlled weaponry could be in use "within years, not decades" and that they represent "the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms."

In addition to Musk, Stephen Hawking and Apple (aapl) cofounder Steve Wozniak also signed their names to the open letter, along with dozens of other scientists and tech industry representatives. While AI technology has the potential to do a lot of good for the human race, the letter reads, it could easily lead to "a global arms race" if that technology is applied to advanced autonomous weaponry. As an example of a potential autonomous weapon, the letter imagines "armed quadcopters that can search for and eliminate people meeting certain pre-defined criteria."

The letter goes on:

"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. . . . 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."

The CEO of electric car company Tesla Motors (tsla), Musk is no stranger to artificial intelligence, having donated millions of dollars to the cause of safe AI technology. Musk's other projects include his role as CEO of commercial aerospace company SpaceX, which makes unmanned rocket ships.

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