Artificial Intelligence
Critics warned AI would jeopardise international security and herald a third revolution in warfare.Creative Commons

Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are among the leading technology companies putting the world at risk through killer robot development that could spearhead a global artificial intelligence (AI)-based arms race, according to a report.

Dutch NGO Pax ranked 50 major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons. It ranked the companies according to three criteria: whether they were developing technology that could be relevant to killer robots, whether they were working on related military projects and if they had committed to abstaining from contributing in the future, an AFP report said.

The use of AI to allow weapon systems to autonomously select and attack targets has sparked ethical debates in recent years, with critics warning they would jeopardise international security and herald a third revolution in warfare after gunpowder and the atomic bomb.

"Why are companies like Microsoft and Amazon not denying that they're currently developing these highly controversial weapons, which could decide to kill people without direct human involvement?" said Frank Slijper, lead author of the report.

Google, which last year published guiding principles eschewing AI for use in weapons systems, was among seven companies found to be engaging in "best practice" in the analysis that spanned 12 countries, as was Japan's Softbank, best known for its humanoid Pepper robot.

Twenty-two companies were of "medium concern," while 21 fell into a "high concern" category, notably Amazon and Microsoft who are both bidding for a $10 billion Pentagon contract to provide the cloud infrastructure for the US military.

Scalable weapons of mass destruction

"Autonomous weapons will inevitably become scalable weapons of mass destruction, because if the human is not in the loop, then a single person can launch a million weapons or a hundred million weapons," Stuart Russell, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told AFP.

"The fact is that autonomous weapons are going to be developed by corporations, and in terms of a campaign to prevent autonomous weapons from becoming widespread, they can play a very big role," added Russell.