Scientists Call for Boycott of South Korean University Over “Killer Robots”


The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) made headlines last month for announcing a partnership with defense company Hanwha Systems to develop artificial intelligence. There is now growing concern that the partnership will lead to the creation of autonomous weapons. A group of over fifty AI scientists from all over the world has called for a boycott of the University over the partnership.

“We therefore publicly declare that we will boycott all collaborations with any part of KAIST, read a statement released by the group, “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 scientists’ main concern is KAIST will use the relationship to develop autonomous weapons that will make war easier and accelerate an arms race. The use of autonomous weapons removes the human element, making it easier to kill a larger amount of people in a very short amount of time, they say.

“They will permit war to be fought faster and at a scale greater than ever before,” the statement released by the group read. “They have the potential to be weapons of terror. Despots and terrorists could use them against innocent populations, removing any ethical restraints. This Pandora’s box will be hard to close if it is opened.”

Scientists say that rather than an army, with hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers needed to inflict wide-scale damage, all a government or a terror group would need with AI is a single programmer.

KAIST President, Shin Sung-Chul, released a statement on Wednesday denying the University had plans to develop “lethal autonomous weapons systems or killer robots.” Chul also asserted the institution is focused on ideas that will better serve the world, that they value human rights and hold ethical standards to a high degree.

“I still have a few question marks about what they intend to do,” boycott organizer Toby Walsh said in a statement after KAIST responded, “but broadly speaking they have responded appropriately.”

The call for a boycott comes a week before a United Nations meeting in Geneva over concerns of autonomous weapons. A statement by the scientists claims twenty-two countries have joined them in calling for a ban of autonomous weapons. “Some weapons are better to be kept out of the battlefield,” Walsh said in an interview with CNN.

“We decided that with biological weapons, chemical weapons and nuclear weapons and use the same technology for better, peaceful purposes, and that’s what we hope to could happen here.”

Photo by Global Panorama via Flickr

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