'Regrettable' AI Move Spurs Boycott Against University
Academics aren't happy S. Korea's KAIST is involved in project that could produce 'killer robots'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 5, 2018 9:40 AM CDT
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Academics are concerned this could be our future.   (Getty Images/Devrimb)

(Newser) – Dozens of AI and robotics scientists want to prevent "an arms race that no one wants to happen": so-called "killer robots" that could emerge from a recently announced venture between a South Korean university and a weapons manufacturer. Per the Guardian, the teaming up of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and Hanwha Systems prompted a boycott letter signed by 50-plus academics from around the world. "We will … not visit KAIST, host visitors from KAIST, or contribute to any research project involving KAIST" until it says it won't "develop autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control," the letter states. It adds KAIST's involvement is "regrettable"—especially as the UN will hold a meeting next week on concerns about autonomous weapons.

"This is a very respected university partnering with a very ethically dubious partner," says boycott organizer Toby Walsh. What spurred the boycott: a February article in the Korea Times on KAIST's collaboration with Hanwha to join "the global competition to develop autonomous arms." Walsh says he wrote to KAIST for details but didn't hear back. KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin is trying to tamp down concerns, noting in a statement to Times Higher Education the university won't "conduct any research activities counter to human dignity, including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control." Walsh says KAIST's response still leaves "some questions unanswered." Per the Verge, some experts say fighting autonomous weapons is "futile," as it's too hard to figure out what human control means. (Elon Musk is scared of AI.)

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