Preventing Autonomous Combat Robots

The computer scientists Wolfram Burgard rejects the misuse of artificial intelligence for military purposes



Drones and combat robots that independently select and fight their targets without human influence - the computer scientist Prof. Dr. Wolfram Burgard is seeking to prevent such developments from arising. “Artificial intelligence is a wonderful science with the potential to significantly improve people’s lives. It must not be abused for military purposes,” emphasizes the Freiburg scientist. In an open letter together with 56 other world leaders in the field of artificial intelligence, he has asked the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology to end the cooperation with a defense company for the development of autonomous weapons systems.

Using the example of autonomous driving, the so-called dual-use problem can be identified particularly well: A car that uses sensors and software to perceive the environment and navigate autonomously could increase traffic safety and travel comfort - but the same technology could also be used in a tank to be used. "This problem affects all developments of artificial intelligence. That’s why it is all the more important that as researchers we draw a clear line, which use of our technologies we advocate and which we reject outright,” says Burgard. In April 2018, the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) again debated  opening negotiations that could lead to a possible outlawing of autonomous weapons systems - a step that the Freiburg computer scientist would expressly welcome.

Wolfram Burgard has been a professor for Autonomous Intelligent Systems at the Department of Computer Science at the University of Freiburg since 1999. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, which is considered the most respected global organization in the fields of robotics and automation, has elected him president in 2018/19. He is also spokesman for the Cluster of Excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools at the University of Freiburg. In 2006 he was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation for his achievements in the field of autonomous intelligent systems and robotics.

Together with Prof. Dr. Silja Vöneky from jurisprudence and legal ethics, Prof. Oliver Müller from philosophy and Dr. Philipp Kellmeyer from neurosurgery will be working on the research topic “Emerging Ethical, Legal, Philosophical and Social Aspects of the Interaction between Humans and Autonomous Intelligent Systems” at the Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS) in 2018/19.

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