The Future of Life Institute announced today that over 160 companies and 2,400 individuals have signed a pledge not to develop lethal AI weapons. Signatories made the pledge during the 2018 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence (IJCAI) in Stockholm. In the pledge, signatories promised they will “neither participate in nor support the development, manufacture, trade or use of lethal autonomous weapons.” Representing 90 countries, the signatories also called on governments to introduce laws against lethal AI weapons. Tech leaders that signed the pledge include Elon Musk, three co-founders of Google DeepMind, Demis Hassabis, Mustafa Suleyman and Shane Legg.

The pledge is the most recent intervention from researchers and executives globally to directly oppose the manufacturing of AI-powered weapons that can “[select] and [engage] targets without human intervention,” as many companies are facing criticism over their technologies, including how they provide them to enforcement groups and other government agencies. Google, which helps the military by providing AI technology for drone images through Project Maven Pentagon contract is still under fire and said to require additional human review. Amazon’s face recognition technology used by law enforcement agencies is also under criticism while Microsoft is facing backlash for its services to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“I’m excited to see AI leaders shifting from talk to action, implementing a policy that politicians have thus far failed to put into effect,” said Max Tegmark, the President of Future of Life Institute. AI can only help the world if we prevent its abuse. “AI weapons that autonomously decide to kill people are as disgusting and destabilizing as bioweapons, and should be dealt with in the same way.”

According to the pledge, AI researchers opine that lethal autonomous weapons have the potential of becoming instruments of oppression and violence, especially when deployed in data systems and surveillance if the risk is not removed. The pledge signatories unanimously agreed that “the decision to take a human life should never be delegated to a machine.”

Microsoft and Google quickly respond to the AI weapons pledge

In response to the pledge, Google has already established new ethics for the company on AI technology. The tech giant proclaimed that it will neither design nor deploy AI-powered weapons or surveillance system powered by AI technology which opposes human rights and principles of international law. Microsoft has disclosed that its work with ICE does not include any facial recognition technology but limited to calendar, document management, email and messaging. The multinational technology company is currently working on principles that will guide its work on facial recognition.

In 2015, Future of Life Institute received $10 million as a donation from Elon Musk for a research that will ensure AI will be beneficial to humanity. Musk, Suleyman, Hassabis last year signed Future of Life Institute letter sent to the UN soliciting for international regulation of autonomous weapons systems. While this may not be easy to achieve soon, recent events including today’s pledge have demonstrated that collective activism can make a difference.