‘Killer robots’: AI experts call for boycott over lab at South Korea university

Academics around the world voice huge fear over KAISTs collaboration with defense company on autonomous weapons

Artificial intelligence researchers from virtually 30 countries are boycotting a South Korean university over concerns a new laboratory in partnership with a resulting defense company could lead to” killer robots “.

More than 50 resulting academics signed the letter calling for a boycott of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology( KAIST) and its partner, defense producer Hanwha Systems. The researchers said they would not collaborate with the university or host visitors from KAIST over fears it sought to” accelerate the arms race to develop” autonomous weapons.

” There are plenty of great things you can do with AI that save lives, including in a military context, but to openly declare the goal is to develop autonomous weapons and have a partner like this sparks huge concern ,” said Toby Walsh, the organiser of the boycott and a prof at the University of New South Wales.” This is a very respected university partnering with a very ethically dubious partner that continues to violate international norms .”

The boycott goes ahead of a United Nations meeting in Geneva next week on autonomous weapons, and more than 20 countries have already called for a total ban on killer robots. The use of AI in militaries around the world has sparked anxieties of a Terminator-like situation and topics have been raised about the accuracy of such weapons and their ability to distinguish friend from rival.

Hanwha is one of South Korea’s largest weapons producers, and makes cluster munitions which are banned in 120 countries under an international treaty. South Korea, along with the US, Russia and China, are not signatories to the convention.

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Walsh was initially concerned when a Korea Times article described KAIST as” joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms” and promptly wrote to the university asking questions but did not receive a response.

KAIST’s president, Sung-Chul Shin, said he was saddened to hear of the boycott.” I would like to reaffirm that KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots ,” Shin said in a statement.

” As an academic institution, we value the rights and ethical standards to a very high degree ,” he added.” I reaffirm once again that KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons absence meaningful human control .”


What is Hanwha Systems?

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What is Hanwha System?

Hanwha System is part of a large global South Korean conglomerate traverse finance, construction, chemicals and hotels and is one of the 10 largest companies in the country. It was founded in 1952, during the Korean War, as the Korea Explosives Company.

The company was excluded from Norway’s national oil fund, designed to invest earnings for future generations, over ethical concerns related to the production of cluster munitions. The weapons have been banned under a treaty signed by 120 countries, although South Korea is not a party.

Hanwha employees were set to” build a cooperation system through sharing education programs and exchanging research manpower” at an artificial intelligence research centre at a leading Korean university, triggering controversy.

In recent years, Hanwha has singled out the Middle East as” a prime and strategic market” and sought to expand with acquisitions of rival companies. The company partnered with Indian firm Larsen& Toubro to secure a reported $660 m weapons contract as part of the beginning of a plan to overhaul the Indian military.

The group’s chairman, Kim Seung-youn, was convicted of larceny in 2012, part of a string of high-profile Korean tycoons charged with fiscal crimes.

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KAIST opened the research centre for the convergence of national defence and artificial intelligence on 20 February, with Shin saying at the time it would” offer a strong foundation for developing national defence technology “.

The centre will focus on” AI-based command and decision systems, composite navigation algorithms for mega-scale unmanned undersea vehicles, AI-based smart aircraft training systems, and AI-based smart object tracking and recognition technology”, the since-deleted proclamation said.

South Korea’s Dodaam Systems already fabricates a fully autonomous ” combat robot “, a stationary turret, capable of seeing targets up to 3km away. Client include the United Arab Emirates and Qatar and it has been tested on the highly militarised border with North Korea, but company executives told the BBC in 2015 there were “self-imposed restrictions” that required a human to deliver a lethal assault.

The Taranis military droning built by the UK’s BAE System can technically operate solely autonomously, according to Walsh, who told murderer robots induced everyone less safe, even in a dangerous neighborhood.

” Developing autonomous weapons would attain the security situation on the Korean peninsula worse , not better ,” he told.” If these weapons get made anywhere, eventually they would certainly turn up in North Korea and they would have no qualms about using them against the South .”

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