Amazon, Microsoft, ‘putting world at risk of killer AI’: study

Leading tech companies are putting the world at risk through killer robot development, according to a report that surveyed major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons. (Shutterstock Illustration)
Updated 22 August 2019
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Amazon, Microsoft, ‘putting world at risk of killer AI’: study

  • The use of AI to allow weapon systems to autonomously select and attack targets has sparked ethical debates in recent years
  • Amazon and Microsoft are both bidding for a $10 billion Pentagon contract to provide the cloud infrastructure for the US military

WASHINGTON: Amazon, Microsoft and Intel are among leading tech companies putting the world at risk through killer robot development, according to a report that surveyed major players from the sector about their stance on lethal autonomous weapons.
Dutch NGO Pax ranked 50 companies by three criteria: whether they were developing technology that could be relevant to deadly AI, whether they were working on related military projects, and if they had committed to abstaining from contributing in the future.
“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 published this week.
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 jeopardize international security and herald a third revolution in warfare after gunpowder and the atomic bomb.
A panel of government experts debated policy options regarding lethal autonomous weapons at a meeting of the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons in Geneva on Wednesday.
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.
Others in the “high concern” group include Palantir, a company with roots in a CIA-backed venture capital organization that was awarded an $800 million contract to develop an AI system “that can help soldiers analyze a combat zone in real time.”
“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 on Wednesday.
“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,” he added.
The development of AI for military purposes has triggered debates and protest within the industry: last year Google declined to renew a Pentagon contract called Project Maven, which used machine learning to distinguish people and objects in drone videos.
It also dropped out of the running for Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), the cloud contract that Amazon and Microsoft are hoping to bag.
The report noted that Microsoft employees had also voiced their opposition to a US Army contract for an augmented reality headset, HoloLens, that aims at “increasing lethality” on the battlefield.

Autonomous weapons
According to Russell, “anything that’s currently a weapon, people are working on autonomous versions, whether it’s tanks, fighter aircraft, or submarines.”
Israel’s Harpy is an autonomous drone that already exists, “loitering” in a target area and selecting sites to hit.
More worrying still are new categories of autonomous weapons that don’t yet exist — these could include armed mini-drones like those featured in the 2017 short film “Slaughterbots.”
“With that type of weapon, you could send a million of them in a container or cargo aircraft — so they have destructive capacity of a nuclear bomb but leave all the buildings behind,” said Russell.
Using facial recognition technology, the drones could “wipe out one ethnic group or one gender, or using social media information you could wipe out all people with a political view.”
The European Union in April published guidelines for how companies and governments should develop AI, including the need for human oversight, working toward societal and environmental wellbeing in a non-discriminatory way, and respecting privacy.
Russell argued it was essential to take the next step in the form of an international ban on lethal AI, that could be summarized as “machines that can decide to kill humans shall not be developed, deployed, or used.”


Clooney calls for global action as he unveils South Sudan corruption report

Updated 50 min 2 sec ago

Clooney calls for global action as he unveils South Sudan corruption report

  • Clooney called on the US and EU to target those involved and their networks with tougher sanctions as his Africa-focused investigative project The Sentry released its latest findings
  • The report accuses Dar Petroleum Corp, the largest multinational oil consortium in South Sudan — led by a Chinese state-owned oil company — of providing support to deadly militias

LONDON: Hollywood star George Clooney on Thursday urged the international community to “step up” as he unveiled a report alleging links between global corporations, tycoons and governments and rampant corruption in South Sudan which has extracted billions of dollars in profits.
Clooney called on the United States and European Union to target those involved and their networks with new and tougher sanctions as his Africa-focused investigative project The Sentry released its latest findings on webs of corruption in the country.
“I believe they should do much more,” he told a news conference in London with his prominent human rights lawyer wife Amal Clooney seated in the front row.
“I don’t know if they can stop it but they can sure make it a lot harder,” said Clooney, a longtime campaigner for human rights in the region, best known for his advocacy in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
The actor and activist co-founded The Sentry in 2015 with former US official John Prendergast.
Its 64-page report — “The Taking of South Sudan” — accuses multinational corporations and individuals of being “war profiteers” complicit with South Sudanese politicians and military officials in “ravaging the world’s newest nation.”
“Nearly every instance of confirmed or alleged corruption or financial crime in South Sudan examined by The Sentry has involved links to an international corporation, a multinational bank, a foreign government or high-end real estate abroad,” it stated.
Clooney said the profiteers include “Chinese and Malaysian oil giants, British tycoons, and American businessmen.”
“Without their support these atrocities could never have happened at this scale,” he added.
The report accuses Dar Petroleum Corp, the largest multinational oil consortium in South Sudan — led by a Chinese state-owned oil company — of providing “direct support to deadly militias.”
Meanwhile Chinese investors formed a company with South Sudan President Salva Kiir’s daughter and acquired several mining licenses in the country just weeks before the military reportedly drove thousands of people from the land where they held a permit, the research claims.
AFP sought comment from the consortium and the government, but they declined to comment, noting they had not read the report.
The probe also alleged an American arms trafficker tried to sell a trove of weapons to a South Sudanese warlord, and two British citizens formed an oil company with a warlord accused of forcibly recruiting thousands of child soldiers.
It said a $65 million scandal involving a South Sudanese general and a British tycoon illustrated “the impunity enjoyed by kleptocrats and their international collaborators.”
The Sentry is composed of financial investigators, international human rights lawyers, and regional experts as well as former law enforcement agents, intelligence officers, policymakers, investigative journalists and banking professionals.
It has previously reported on corruption and human rights abuses by South Sudan’s civilian and military leaders, but Clooney said its new strategy was to “follow the money.”
“If you can’t shame them (officials), then you can shame the people who do business with them,” he told reporters.
“You can make it difficult for certain financial institutions to look the other way.
“That can be an effective tool — a much more effective tool than trying to shame a warlord.”