the terminator

Korean university drops plans to make ‘killer robots’ after international boycott threat

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Researchers have called off their planned boycott of one of South Korea’s top universities after it agreed not to work with a defence company to develop 'killer robots'.

More than 50 researchers announced a boycott of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), South Korea’s top university last week, after it opened what they called an AI weapons lab with one of South Korea’s largest defence companies: Hanwha Systems. 

Hanwha, one of two South Korean manfacturers of cluster munitions, launched the project in February.

Profressor Toby Walsh, an AI expert based at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who proposed the ban, welcomed KAIST’s rapid response.

“I was very pleased that the president of KAIST has agreed not to develop lethal autonomous weapons, and to follow international norms by ensuring meaningful human control of any AI-based weapon that will be developed,” he said. “I applaud KAIST for doing the right thing, and I’ll be happy to work with KAIST in the future. It goes to show the power of the scientific community when we choose to speak out - our action was an overnight success."

“We initially sought assurances in private from the university more than month ago about the goals of their new lab. But the day after we announced the boycott, KAIST gave assurances very publicly and very clearly.”

The researchers, based in 30 countries, said last week that they would refrain from visiting KAIST, hosting visitors from the university, or cooperating with its research programmes until it promised not to develop AI weapons without “meaningful human control”.

KAIST responded within hours, saying it had no plans to develop either such systems or “lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots.”

Walsh said that he wasn’t entirely against the idea of using AI in a military setting.

“No one, for instance, should risk a life or limb clearing a minefield - this is a perfect job for a robot,” he said. “But we should not, however, hand over the decision of who lives or who dies to a machine - this crosses an ethical red-line and will result in new weapons of mass destruction."

Representatives from more than 120 U.N. countries are meeting in Geneva to debate the challenges posed by lethal autonomous weapons, dubbed “killer robots” by critics.

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