AI and robotics researchers call off boycott of KAIST

A boycott by global AI & robotics researchers of South Korea’s KAIST has been called off after the university’s president committed not to develop lethal autonomous weapons.


AI and robotics researchers have ended a boycott of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology over the opening of an AI weapons lab in collaboration with Hanwha Systems.

At the opening of the Research Centre for the Convergence of National Defence and Artificial Intelligence, it was reported that KAIST was joining the global competition to develop autonomous arms by developing weapons that could search for and eliminate targets without human control.

“KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots,” said KAIST’s president, Professor Sung-Chul Shin, in response to the boycott. “KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”

Boycott instigator Toby Walsh, Scientia Professor of Artificial Intelligence at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said: “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.”

The boycott arose ahead of meetings this week in Geneva of the 123 member nations of the United Nations discussing the challenges posed by lethal autonomous weapons. The Group of Governmental Experts to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons will consider military applications of AI, and options for addressing the humanitarian and international security challenges posed by lethal autonomous weapons systems.

“Back in 2015, thousands of my colleagues in AI wrote an open letter to the UN warning of an arms race to develop autonomous weapons,” Walsh said. “We couldn’t therefore sit back and watch a top university collaborate with such a controversial industry partner to accelerate that race.