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If you’re thinking about posting any questions to Stephen Hawking’s Reddit AMA today, perhaps the latest letter from the Future of Life asking for a global ban on autonomous weapons is a good place to start.

Hawking is among thousands of robotics experts and scientists who have signed the petition asking for an international ban on the development and use of AI in warfare.

According to the letter, “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.”

The letter, also signed by other well-known techies wary of AI’s potential for evil including Tesla/SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, plays out some possible scenarios not so far off in the future that make that earthquake article from the New Yorker look like a Pixar flick. The experts warn that starting a global AI arms race could have serious implications due to how cheap and easy it would be for nefarious organizations to obtain and deploy it.

“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.,” the letter states. “Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.”

The letter contends that most AI experts (we hope) have no interest in making weapons, just in making tools to help humanity. It concludes: “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 letter will be presented tomorrow at the International Joint Conferences on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires.

Read the letter, then get your questions on Reddit for Hawking.

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