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“Killer robot” fears prompt AI experts to boycott leading South Korea university

More than 50 AI experts have boycotted a South Korean university, over fears that it could be looking to “accelerate the arms race” by building so-called “killer robots”.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) recently announced the launch of a “Research Center for the Convergence of National Defense and Artificial Intelligence”, in partnership with arms company Hanwha Systems.

The move suggested that KAIST, which came in 46th place in QS’ 2018 rankings of the best universities in the world, was planning to help the arms firm build artificial intelligence-enhanced weapons that could be used by the military.

Over 50 AI and robotics researchers have now signed an open letter, calling for the boycott of KAIST.

“At a time when the United Nations is discussing how to contain the threat posed to international security by autonomous weapons, it is regrettable that a prestigious institution like KAIST looks to accelerate the arms race to develop such weapons,” it reads.

“We therefore publicly declare that we will boycott all collaborations with any part of KAIST until such time as the President of KAIST provides assurances, which we have sought but not received, that the Center will not develop autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.

“We will, for example, not visit KAIST, host visitors from KAIST, or contribute to any research project involving KAIST.”

KAIST has tried to calm fears, by saying it has no plans to help develop lethal autonomous weaponry. Instead, it says, the research centre will focus on algorithms that could improve unmanned navigation, aviation and the efficiency of logistical systems.

“I am saddened to hear about the announcement on the boycott of KAIST for allegedly developing killer robots,” KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin told Science Magazine.

“I would like to reaffirm that KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots. KAIST is significantly aware of ethical concerns in the application of all technologies including artificial intelligence.”

Robot Wars judge Noel Sharkey, one of the experts to have signed the open letter, told the BBC that the relationship between KAIST and Hanwha will need to be discussed before the boycott is lifted.

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