This week, the United Nations is holding a “meeting of experts” to debate whether the U.N. should ban Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems (LAWS) before they even exist. If you’re not yet intimidated, consider one such autonomous weapon: artificially intelligent robot armies.

Or consider one acting definition of LAWS:

“The delivery platform of a LAWS would be capable of moving, adapting to its land, marine or aerial environments and targeting and firing a lethal effector (bullet, missile, bomb, etc.) without any kind of human intervention or validation.”

There is one such system reportedly already in use in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.

Part of the worry here, aside from letting loose automatic human targeters and killers, is that there will be a new arms race to develop and unleash LAWS. If this arms race takes off, then — the argument runs — there’ll be no stopping it. It’s our generation’s version of mutually assured destruction, except it’ll be out of humanity’s hands. Instead of waiting to react to LAWS-spurred havoc, the U.N. hopes to take preliminary actions to ensure that no such havoc can ever occur.

By so convening, the U.N. is giving legitimacy to what could have otherwise remained a fringe debate. Other powerful names, however, share the concern. Last year, the Future of Life Institute brought together A.I. and robotics researchers to pen an open letter urging such a ban on autonomous weapon systems.

Will you comply?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is — practically if not legally — feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Noam Chomsky, and Steve Wozniak, along with other powerful names, signed on to endorse the letter. Elon Musk also donated $10 million to the FLI, and is verifiably concerned about a LAWS-induced apocalypse. Here’s Musk post-donation:

The informal U.N. meeting runs through Friday. While it will not itself result in a LAWS ban, it is the requisite first step.

Photos via I, Robot (Facebook)