Imminent Battle Droids Are Still Not AI

July 29, 2015

Wow, there was a huge International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, and on that occasion some thousand or so AI experts signed an open letter opposing autonomous weapons like battle droids. All the big names are in on it, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking. So now everyone’s all scared about AI again!

Used Kimonos for Men - June 7, 2013

Used Kimonos for Men – June 7, 2013 (Enlarge)

Someone would have to be a real party pooper to point out the problem, but here goes. I can’t resist saying it again: That’s not AI! That’s just slick software programming. It isn’t qualitatively different from your old PC or your current smartphone.

Of course computers can kill you. That’s really old news. They’re saying the new battle droids are “autonomous,” but I might still quibble over that word. I mean, do the battle droids really make decisions on their own if they’re still just following their coded rules? They’re still mindlessly doing what their programmers commanded, right? So do we really want to call them autonomous? It’s just that they aren’t directly connected to a remote controller anymore.

OK, and the other obvious problem is how anyone can ever stop people from making their own backyard battledroids. As the open letter points out, this is very easy to do, unlike nuclear weapons for example. Unfortunately the open letter gives no hint about solutions to the imminent problem of scrappy battle droids in the hands of terrorists or common criminals or even teenage pranksters. Shucks.