‘Killer ro­bot’ boy­cott of Korean univer­sity called off

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CON­TENTS - John.ross@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence ex­perts have called off a threat­ened boy­cott of one of Korea’s top univer­si­ties, af­ter it un­der­took not to use a new re­search cen­tre to de­velop so-called killer ro­bots.

Fifty- six AI and ro­bot­ics re­searchers said they would main­tain aca­demic con­tacts with the Korea Ad­vanced In­sti­tute of Science and Tech­nol­ogy (KAIST) af­ter its pres­i­dent, Sung-Chul Shin, gave pub­lic as­sur­ances about the ac­tiv­i­ties of its Re­search Cen­tre for the Con­ver­gence of Na­tional De­fence and Ar­ti­fi­cial In­tel­li­gence.

Korean me­dia re­ports had sug­gested that the cen­tre was work­ing on au­ton­o­mous weapon projects in­clud­ing “AI-equipped un­manned sub­marines and armed quad­copters”.

Re­searchers also had con­cerns about KAIST’s part­ner in the cen­tre, Korean arms com­pany Han­wha Sys­tems, which they said had de­vel­oped clus­ter mu­ni­tions and an au­ton­o­mous “sen­try” ro­bot called the SGR-A1.

The ex­perts aired their con­cerns in an open let­ter sched­uled for re­lease last Wed­nes­day. How­ever, KAIST ve­he­mently de­nied any in­ten­tion to work on au­ton­o­mous weapons sys­tems af­ter it was con­tacted by Times Higher Education.

The re­searchers said they had now ac­cepted KAIST’s guar­an­tees. “Given this clear com­mit­ment, the sig­na­to­ries to the boy­cott have re­scinded the ac­tion,” or­gan­iser Toby Walsh said in a state­ment.

“They will once again visit and host re­searchers from KAIST and col­lab­o­rate on sci­en­tific projects.”

KAIST was ranked 95th best univer­sity in the world, and the sec­ond top Korean in­sti­tu­tion be­hind Seoul Na­tional Univer­sity, in this year’s THE World Univer­sity Rank­ings. Pro­fes­sor Walsh de­scribed it as “the MIT of Korea”.

He added that AI had le­git­i­mate mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions. “No one, for in­stance, should risk life or limb clear­ing a mine­field – this is a per­fect job for a ro­bot.

“But we should not 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.”

A United Na­tions group is meet­ing in Geneva this week to dis­cuss the hu­man­i­tar­ian and in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity chal­lenges posed by lethal au­ton­o­mous weapons sys­tems. Twenty-two par­tic­i­pat­ing na­tions have backed a call for a pre-emp­tive ban on such weapons.

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