Artificial intelligence experts boycott South Korean university over 'killer robots' project

Over 50 top AI researchers are boycotting a South Korean university over concerns a new lab in partnership with a leading defence company could lead to 'killer robots'

Robots from the movie Terminator
Robots from the movie Terminator

Artificial intelligence researchers from nearly 30 countries are boycotting a South Korean university over concerns a new lab in partnership with a leading defence company could lead to “killer robots”.

Over 50 top artificial intelligence researchers on Wednesday announced a boycott of KAIST, South Korea’s top university, after it opened what they called an AI weapons lab with one of South Korea’s largest companies.

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 professor 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.”

KAIST opened the new centre in February, with Hanwha Systems, one of two South Korean makers of cluster munitions, saying they would focus on using AI for command and control systems, navigation for large unmanned undersea vehicles, smart aircraft training and tracking and recognition of objects.

No comment was immediately available from the university or the company outside of regular business hours about the boycott or the work of their Research Centre for the Convergence of National Defence and Artificial Intelligence.

The boycott comes 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 fears of a Terminator-like situation and questions have been raised about the accuracy of such weapons and their ability to distinguish friend from foe.

“Developing autonomous weapons would make the security situation on the Korean peninsula worse, not better,” Walsh said. “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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