Here's the real reason researchers issued a dire warning about weapons that can aim and fire all by themselves

AK47Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/ReutersShi’ite Muslim rebels hold up their weapons during a rally against air strikes in Sanaa.

An open letter, signed by more than a thousand top artificial intelligence researchers, urges the United Nations to ban autonomous weapons.

The letter, presented at the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, includes signatories like Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk alongside leading AI scientists like Stuart Russell and Google director of research Peter Norvig.

The letter chillingly warns that, if developed, autonomous weapons would soon become the “Kaloshnikovs of the future.”

“Kaloshnikov” is the russian slang term for automatic rifles better known by Americans as AKs — cheap, durable, and the “world’s most popular gun,” according to Mother Jones.

It cautions that the development of autonomous weapons, or weapons that can target and fire without a human at the controls, would be hijacked by warlords against civilians or in rogue assassinations, similar to how AKs have flourished in the hands of terrorists.

“[Automonous intelligent weapons are] likely to be used not just in wars between countries, but the way Kalashnikovs are used now … in civil wars,” Russell told Tech Insider. “[Kalashnikovs are] used to terrorize populations by warlords and guerrillas. They’re used by governments to oppress their own people.”

A life in fear of terrorists or governments armed with autonomous artificially intelligent weapons “would be a life for many human beings that is not something I would wish for anybody,” Russell said.

Heather Roff, an assistant teaching professor at the Joseph Korbell School of International Studies at the University of Denver, and a contributor and signer to the letter, told Tech Insider that autonomous weapons systems could be crudely reproduced on the cheap and easy enough to smuggle.

Like AKs, autonomous weapons could easily get into the hands of terrorists, warlords, and criminals, who could wreak havoc on civilian populations with impunity.

“Small arms proliferation is a really big problem in the world,” Roff said. “The types of technologies that AI and autonomous weapons can produce are not high-cost systems. You can build rather crude systems rather easily and those can proliferate.”

The letter also warned widespread use of autonomous systems by militaries could bring about a “third revolution in warfare,” much like the creation of guns and nuclear bombs before it.

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