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By James Eng

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and physicist Stephen Hawking have joined some of the world’s top artificial intelligence researchers in calling for a ban on "autonomous weapons" that can hunt down and kill people without human intervention.

The trio are among the nearly 2,000 signatories of an open letter urging the United Nations to ban killer robots, pre-programmed armed drones and other artificial intelligence-inspired lethal weapons. The letter says the technology is already at the point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years.

"The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting," the letter says. "If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable, and the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow."

Related: Report to U.N.: 'Killer Robots' Should Be Banned

The letter is endorsed by more than 1,000 AI and robotics researchers and nearly 1,000 experts in other fields. In addition to Musk, Wozniak and Hawking, other notable names signing on include Skype co-founder Jaan Talinn and linguist Noam Chomsky.

Related: Future Tech? Autonomous Killer Robots Are Already Here

The letter was released as top experts in artificial intelligence gathered Tuesday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the 2015 International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence. The conference has become a venue to discuss the implications of AI technology on society.