Robotics

Boycott ends after South Korean university pledges to not build ‘killer robots’

Dozens of artificial intelligence and robotics researchers declared last Wednesday they would boycott the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in protest at the opening of the AI weapons lab there

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 2:10pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 9:07pm

An international group of researchers said it would end its “boycott of all contact” with a leading South Korean research university, having confirmed that a newly opened lab will not engage in the development of “killer robots”.

Around 60 artificial intelligence and robotics researchers declared last Wednesday they would boycott the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in protest at the opening of the AI weapons lab there in February.

The South Korean university known as KAIST launched the AI research centre with Hanwha Systems Co., a defence electronics company said to be involved in the making of cluster bombs that are criticised as inhumane weapons.

In an open letter, the researchers from 28 countries and two regions had warned: “If developed, autonomous weapons will be the third revolution in warfare. They will permit war to be fought faster and at a scale greater than ever before … This Pandora’s box will be hard to close if it is opened.”

But the researchers decided to end the boycott after KAIST President Sung Chul-shin was quoted as saying his university “does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots.”

The president also promised not to conduct “any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”

“Given this swift and clear commitment to the responsible use of artificial intelligence in the development of weapons, the 56 AI and robotics researchers who were signatories to the boycott … will once again visit and host researchers from KAIST, and collaborate on scientific projects,” the researchers said in a statement.

The boycott was organised by Toby Walsh, one of Australia’s leading AI experts.

A UN panel of experts began talks to explore ways to address international security challenges posed by autonomous weapons in November.