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Korea steps back from ‘killer robot’ lab after threatened boycott

THE PLANNED boycott of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) over its research into military robots has been cancelled after the lab agreed to step back from the brink of madness.

The state-run lab known as Research Centre for the Convergence of National Defence and Artificial Intelligence (RCCNDAI, presumably) was working in partnership with defence company Hanwa, a company which develops so-called ‘cluster munitions’ which are banned in over 100 countries and a completely autonomous sentry robot called SGR-A1 – echoes of ED-209 anyone?

Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, who initiated the action, praised KAIST for the rapid response.

“I was very pleased that the president of KAIST has agreed not to develop lethal autonomous weapons, and to follow international norms by ensuring meaningful human control of any AI-based weapon that will be developed,” he said. “I applaud KAIST for doing the right thing, and I’ll be happy to work with KAIST in the future.

“It goes to show the power of the scientific community when we choose to speak out – our action was an overnight success,” he added.

“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.”

“There are plenty of good applications for AI, even in a military setting. No one, for instance, should risk a life or limb clearing a minefield – this is a perfect job for a robot. But we should not, however, 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.”

This week sees a meeting of UN Security Council countries in Geneva, Switzerland where it is expected that a significant number will call for an outright ban on AI weapons research and killer bots.

KAIST had already denied it was up to no good, stating: “As an academic institution, we value human rights and ethical standards to a very high degree,

“I reaffirm once again that KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”

However, the institution’s lack of explanation for why the Hanwa tie-up was necessary at all for many companies and institutions to further cry foul. µ  

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