University Facing Boycott Over Killer Robots

A boycott of a major South Korean research university has been called for by many of the world’s leading experts on artificial intelligence and robotics. The university has reportedly been working with an arms company on integrating artificial intelligence with weaponry. According to local news reports, the research center is working to create software for “AI-based” missiles, unmanned submarines, and armed quadcopters by the end of 2018.

The university, KAIST, set up a joint research center earlier this year conglomerate Hanwha Systems defense arm. Hanwha is one of the country’s biggest weapons manufacturers. The university said the center will use AI for navigation, command and control systems, smart aircraft training and tracking and object recognition.

More than 50 researchers from 30 countries signed a letter expressing concern about the center’s plans to develop artificial intelligence for weapons. University of New South Wales professor Toby Walsh organized the boycott. Prof. Noel Sharkey, who heads the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, was one of the first to sign the letter.

The researchers said they won’t visit KAIST or host visitors from the university until it vows to stop developing AI weapons without “meaningful human control.” In an open letter, the professors wrote: “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.” The researchers also said they won’t cooperate with KAIST’s research programs.

KAIST president Sung-Chul Shin responded to the open letter saying that the university “does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots.” Walsh said AI can have many uses in the military that benefit humans, but “we should not hand over the decision of who lives or dies to a machine.” Many people and organizations have called for either bans or strict limits on such systems.

A United Nations group is planning to meet next week in Geneva to discuss the issues around lethal autonomous weapons systems. It is expected that 123 member nations of the UN will attend. Nearly two-dozen of these nations have called for an outright ban on such weapons.