RobotRepublic cofounder Noel Sharkey serves as a director at the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, the non-profit association that delivered an open letter to the United Nations today asking for a “complete ban” on all autonomous weapons. He also is the cofounder of this site and the founder of the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, our patron. A renowned robot ethicist, he also serves on the International Committee for Robot Arms Control.

RobotRepublicNoel Sharkey — The United Nations should move immediately to ban autonomous weapons and kill off any ‘killer robot” initiatives it knows about, an international coalition of robotics and AI business and academic leaders said today.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Google DeepMind chief Mustafa Suleyman and Element AI’s Yoshua Bengio are just three of the 116 business leaders and academics from 24 nations who signed the open letter to the U.N. (Read the letter and find a full list of who signed below the fold.)

It’s a response to a recent U.N. vote to commence discussions about about such smart military tech as war drones, tanks and automated machine guns and assault rifles.

If the sponsoring Campaign to Stop Killer Robots and its signatories have their way, there won’t be much to discuss. The group wants an outright ban and the UN should do it now, they write before it’s too late. After gunpowder and nuclear bombs, autonomous weaponry could usher in “a third revolution in warfare,” which they say will bring “conflict that (can) be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter reads.

That’s why the group is urging the UN to go in and outlaw autonomous weapons, killer robots, assassin drones and like technologies. If it doesn’t, the group warns, the a deadly arms race to procure killer robot and AI technology will begin and then there will be no turning back.

“We do not have long to act,” the letter’s closing statement reads. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

autonomous weapons elon musk noel sharkey gina smith robotrepublic responsible robotics war

Killer robot swarms

AI and robotics innovations in weaponry could arrive in five to 30 years, the experts said, but there are plenty of smart weapons already in use that are plenty alarming already. Ever heard of the $157 million long-range anti-ship missile system? Once given a target, it will doggedly go after it and try to take it out, no further human intervention required. And maybe you’ve read about the  newX-47B, considered to be the most advanced unmanned drones in the US military. It needs hardly any help from a human remote pilot to take off, fly and land on carriers.  Israel’s Harpy drone will do all that, plus patrol till it detects an enemy radar signal and start firing at the source.

Defense systems like the US Phalanx, pictured in the cover image above and shown in the video below the fold, similarly will shoot down incoming missiles, with no time for humans to intervene — presuming they even wanted to.

In the open letter and accompanying release today, Bayesian Logic’s founder Stuart Russell, the open letter’s first signer, said an outright UN ban on autonomous weapons “is vital for national and international security.” He added:

“Unless people want to see new weapons of mass destruction – in the form of vast swarms of lethal microdrones – spreading around the world, it’s imperative to step up and support the United Nations’ efforts to create a treaty banning lethal autonomous weapons. This is vital for national and international security.”

“The number of prominent companies and individuals who have signed this letter reinforces our warning that this is not a hypothetical scenario, but a very real, very pressing concern which needs immediate action,” said Clearpath Robotics founder and CTO Ryan Gariepy, who appears to be the first person to sign the letter.

“We should not lose sight of the fact that, unlike other potential manifestations of AI which still remain in the realm of science fiction, autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now and have a very real potential to cause significant harm to innocent people along with global instability,” he wrote. “The development of lethal autonomous weapons systems is unwise, unethical and should be banned on an international scale.”

“Autonomous weapons systems are on the cusp of development right now,” said deep learning expert and Element founder Bengio. “I signed the open letter because the use of AI in autonomous weapons hurts my sense of ethics, would be likely to lead to a very dangerous escalation, because it would hurt the further development of AI’s good applications, and because it is a matter that needs to be handled by the international community, ” he said, “similarly to what has been done in the past for some other morally wrong weapons like (chemical and biological) weapons.”

The open letter to the U.N. was one largely organized by AI thinker Toby Walsh, who led the creation and delivery of a similar letter to the UN back in 2015. That letter was endorsed by physicist Stephen Hawking and Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak, and in the end scored thousands of signatures from AI and robotics thinkers at universities, think tanks and startups around the world.

Watch this space for commentary on this developing piece from our cofounder, Noel Sharkey.

For RobotRepublic, I’m Gina Smith.


As companies building the technologies in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics that may be repurposed to develop autonomous weapons, we feel especially responsible in raising this alarm. We warmly welcome the decision of the UN’s Conference of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) to establish a Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems.
Many of our researchers and engineers are eager to offer technical advice to your deliberations. We commend the appointment of Ambassador Amandeep Singh Gill of India as chair of the GGE.
We entreat the High Contracting Parties participating in the GGE to work hard at finding means to prevent an arms race in these weapons, to protect civilians from their misuse, and to avoid the destabilizing effects of these technologies. We regret that the GGE’s first meeting, which was due to start today (August 21, 2017), has been cancelled due to a small number of states failing to pay their financial contributions to the UN.
We urge the High Contracting Parties therefore to double their efforts at the first meeting of the GGE now planned for November. Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare. Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.
We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close. We therefore implore the High Contracting Parties to find a way to protect us all from these dangers.

Aug. 21, 2017: Who signed?

Tiberio Caetano, founder & Chief Scientist at Ambiata, Australia.
Mark Chatterton and Leo Gui, founders, MD & of Ingenious AI, Australia.
Charles Gretton, founder of Hivery, Australia.
Brad Lorge, founder & CEO of, Australia
Brenton O’Brien, founder & CEO of Microbric, Australia.
Samir Sinha, founder & CEO of Robonomics AI, Australia.
Ivan Storr, founder & CEO, Blue Ocean Robotics, Australia.
Peter Turner, founder & MD of Tribotix, Australia.
Yoshua Bengio, founder of Element AI & Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms, Canada.
Ryan Gariepy, founder & CTO, Clearpath Robotics, found & CTO of OTTO Motors, Canada.
James Chow, founder & CEO of UBTECH Robotics, China.
Robert Li, founder & CEO of Sankobot, China.
Marek Rosa, founder & CEO of GoodAI, Czech Republic.
Søren Tranberg Hansen, founder & CEO of Brainbotics, Denmark.
Markus Järve, founder & CEO of Krakul, Estonia.
Harri Valpola, founder & CTO of ZenRobotics, founder & CEO of Curious AI Company, Finland.
Esben Østergaard, founder & CTO of Universal Robotics, Denmark.
Raul Bravo, founder & CEO of DIBOTICS, France.
Raphael Cherrier, founder & CEO of Qucit, France.
Jerome Monceaux, founder & CEO of, founder & CCO of Aldebaran Robotics, France.
Charles Ollion, founder & Head of Research at Heuritech, France.
Anis Sahbani, founder & CEO of Enova Robotics, France.
Alexandre Vallette, founder of SNIPS & Ants Open Innovation Labs, France.
Marcus Frei, founder & CEO of NEXT.robotics, Germany.
Kirstinn Thorisson, founder & Director of Icelandic Institute for Intelligence Machines, Iceland.
Fahad Azad, founder of Robosoft Systems, India.
Debashis Das, Ashish Tupate, Jerwin Prabu, founders (incl. CEO) of Bharati Robotics, India.
Pulkit Gaur, founder & CTO of Gridbots Technologies, India.
Pranay Kishore, founder & CEO of Phi Robotics Research, India.
Shahid Memom, founder & CTO of Vanora Robots, India.
Krishnan Nambiar & Shahid Memon, founders, CEO & CTO of Vanora Robotics, India.
Achu Wilson, founder & CTO of Sastra Robotics, India.
Neill Gernon, founder & MD of Atrovate, founder of Dublin.AI, Ireland.
Parsa Ghaffari, founder & CEO of Aylien, Ireland.
Alan Holland, founder & CEO of Keelvar Systems, Ireland.
Alessandro Prest, founder & CTO of LogoGrab, Ireland.
Alessio Bonfietti, founder & CEO of MindIT, Italy.
Angelo Sudano, founder & CTO of ICan Robotics, Italy.
Shigeo Hirose, Michele Guarnieri, Paulo Debenest, & Nah Kitano, founders, CEO & Directors of HiBot Corporation, Japan.
Luis Samahí García González, founder & CEO of QOLbotics, Mexico.
Koen Hindriks & Joachim de Greeff, founders, CEO & COO at Interactive Robotics, the Netherlands.
Maja Rudinac, founder and CEO of Robot Care Systems, the Netherlands.
Jaap van Leeuwen, founder and CEO Blue Ocean Robotics Benelux, the Netherlands.
Dyrkoren Erik, Martin Ludvigsen & Christine Spiten, founders, CEO, CTO & Head of Marketing at BlueEye Robotics, Norway.
Sergii Kornieiev, founder & CEO of BaltRobotics, Poland.
Igor Kuznetsov, founder & CEO of NaviRobot, Russian Federation.
Aleksey Yuzhakov & Oleg Kivokurtsev, founders, CEO & COO of Promobot, Russian Federation.
Junyang Woon, founder & CEO, Infinium Robotics, former Branch Head & Naval Warfare Operations Officer, Singapore.
Jasper Horrell, founder of DeepData, South Africa.
Toni Ferrate, founder & CEO of RO-BOTICS, Spain.
José Manuel del Río, founder & CEO of Aisoy Robotics, Spain.
Victor Martin, founder & CEO of Macco Robotics, Spain.
Timothy Llewellynn, founder & CEO of nViso, Switzerland.
Francesco Mondada, founder of K-Team, Switzerland.
Jurgen Schmidhuber, Faustino Gomez, Jan Koutník, Jonathan Masci & Bas Steunebrink, founders, President & CEO of Nnaisense, Switzerland.
Satish Ramachandran, founder of AROBOT, United Arab Emirates.
Silas Adekunle, founder & CEO of Reach Robotics, UK.
Steve Allpress, founder & CTO of FiveAI, UK.
Joel Gibbard and Samantha Payne, founders, CEO & COO of Open Bionics, UK.
Richard Greenhill & Rich Walker, founders & MD of Shadow Robot Company, UK.
Nic Greenway, founder of React AI Ltd (Aiseedo), UK.
Daniel Hulme, founder & CEO of Satalia, UK.
Charlie Muirhead & Tabitha Goldstaub, founders & CEO of CognitionX, UK.
Geoff Pegman, founder & MD of R U Robots, UK.
Mustafa Suleyman, founder & Head of Applied AI, DeepMind, UK.
Donald Szeto, Thomas Stone & Kenneth Chan, founders, CTO, COO & Head of Engineering of PredictionIO, UK.
Antoine Biondeau, founder & CEO of Sentient Technologies, USA.
Brian Gerkey, founder & CEO of Open Source Robotics, USA.
Ryan Hickman & Soohyun Bae, founders, CEO & CTO of TickTock.AI, USA.
Henry Hu, founder & CEO of Cafe X Technologies, USA.
Alfonso Íñiguez, founder & CEO of Swarm Technology, USA.
Gary Marcus, founder & CEO of Geometric Intelligence (acquired by Uber), USA.
Brian Mingus, founder & CTO of Latently, USA.
Mohammad Musa, founder & CEO at Deepen AI, USA.
Elon Musk, founder, CEO & CTO of SpaceX, co-founder & CEO of Tesla Motor, USA.
Rosanna Myers & Dan Corkum, founders, CEO & CTO of Carbon Robotics, USA.
Erik Nieves, founder & CEO of PlusOne Robotics, USA.
Steve Omohundro, founder & President of Possibility Research, USA.
Jeff Orkin, founder & CEO, Giant Otter Technologies, USA.
Dan Reuter, found & CEO of Electric Movement, USA.
Alberto Rizzoli & Simon Edwardsson, founders & CEO of AIPoly, USA.
Dan Rubins, founder & CEO of Legal Robot, USA.
Stuart Russell, founder & VP of Bayesian Logic Inc., USA.
Andrew Schroeder, founder of WeRobotics, USA.
Gabe Sibley & Alex Flint, founders, CEO & CPO of, USA.
Martin Spencer, founder & CEO of GeckoSystems, USA.
Peter Stone, Mark Ring & Satinder Singh, founders, President/COO, CEO & CTO of Cogitai, USA.
Michael Stuart, founder & CEO of Lucid Holdings, USA.
Massimiliano Versace, founder, CEO & President, Neurala Inc, USA

The cover image of this piece came from this video, via All Rights Reserved.