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Scientists end ‘killer robot’ boycott

Apr 11,2018
A group of more than 50 artificial intelligence scientists called off their boycott of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (Kaist) on Tuesday after the school vowed never to develop “killer robots.”

Fifty-seven AI researchers from 30 countries, led by Toby Walsh, a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales in Australia, declared on April 4 that they would refuse to visit Kaist, host visitors from the university or cooperate with its research programs until it pledges not to develop AI weapons that lack “meaningful human control.”

Kaist President Shin Sung-chul responded within hours, sending letters to each of the scientists saying that the school “does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots.”

The concerns over autonomous weapons were raised by AI academics after the state-run science research university opened the Research Center for the Convergence of National Defense and Artificial Intelligence on Feb. 20 in partnership with Hanwha Systems, the defense arm of Korean conglomerate Hanwha.

Professor Walsh wrote in an email to Kaist on Tuesday that the withdrawal of the boycott came after the university’s “swift and clear commitment to the responsible use of artificial intelligence in the development of weapons.”

“We initially sought assurances in private from the university more than month ago about the goals of their new lab. But the day after we announced the boycott, Kaist gave assurances very publicly and very clearly,” he said.

On April 16, governments are meeting at the United Nations in Geneva to discuss whether and how to regulate lethal autonomous weapons systems, otherwise known as killer robots.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]