AI Faces Its ‘Oppenheimer Moment’ During Killer Robot Arms Race

Regulators who want to get a grip on an emerging generation of artificially intelligent killing machines may not have much time left to do so, governments were warned on Monday.

As autonomous weapons systems rapidly proliferate, including across battlefields in Ukraine and Gaza, algorithms and unmanned aerial vehicles are already helping military planners decide whether or not to hit targets. Soon, that decision could be outsourced entirely to the machines.

“This is the Oppenheimer Moment of our generation,” said Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg, referencing J. Robert Oppenheimer, who helped invent the atomic bomb in 1945 before going on to advocate for controls over the spread of nuclear arms.

Civilian, military and technology officials from more than 100 countries convened Monday in Vienna to discuss how their economies can control the merger of AI with military technologies — two sectors that have recently animated investors, helping pushing stock valuations to historic highs.

Spreading global conflict combined with financial incentives for companies to promote AI adds to the challenge of controlling killer robots, according to Jaan Tallinn, an early investor in Alphabet Inc.’s AI platform DeepMind Technologies.

“Silicon Valley’s incentives might not be aligned with the rest of humanity,” Tallinn said.