DARPA-winning robotics team faces boycott over interest in AI weapons development

South Korea’s KAIST University, the school behind the advanced humanoid DRC-HUBO robot that won DARPA’s 2015 Robotics Challenge, is facing a boycott from some of the world’s top AI researchers. The boycott comes amid reports that KAIST is developing AI weapons in collaboration with South Korean defense company Hanhwa Systems.

The boycott against KAIST is headed by Professor Toby Walsh of the University of New South Wales, who stated that the university’s work with Hanhwa, a known weapons developer in S.Korea, stands as one of the signs that the arms race for autonomous weapons is beginning. According to Walsh, him and 49 of his peers across 30 different nations are unanimous in the notion that KAIST’s initiatives will only accelerate the AI weapons race.

“We can see prototypes of autonomous weapons under development today by many nations including the US, China, Russia, and the UK. We are locked into an arms race that no one wants to happen. KAIST’s actions will only accelerate this arms race. We cannot tolerate this. This is a very respected university partnering with a very ethically dubious partner that continues to violate international norms,” Walsh said, according to a report from The Verge.

Under the terms of the boycott, all contact and collaboration with KAIST would be forbidden. These academic sanctions will be enforced until the South Korean university can assure that the weapons it will develop will have a form of “meaningful human control.”

KAIST President Sung-Chul Shin, however, argues that the university is not engaged in any programs that will result in the development of deadly AI-powered robots.

“I would like to reaffirm that KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots. I reaffirm once again that KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control,” Shin said.

KAIST’s projects with Hanhwa Systems came into light after a report from The Korea Times. According to the publication, 25 researchers from KAIST will be working with the weapons maker in order to develop AI arms, which would be capable of searching for and eliminating targets without human control. Among the weapons mentioned in the report are AI-based missiles that can control their altitude as well as AI-equipped unmanned submarines and quadcopters.

KAIST’s prowess in robotics were in full show in 2015, when the South Korean university joined DARPA’s Robotics Challenge. During the competition, the team’s biped robot, dubbed the DRC-HUBO, bested its competitors by achieving a perfect score in an obstacle course. KAIST won $2 million as a result of its efforts.

As we noted in a previous report, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been vocal about his reservations on the dangers of unregulated AI. Just last year, Musk boldly stated that the next world war might be caused by the spread and the advent of over-advanced, uncontrolled artificial intelligence. Considering the nature of the projects being conducted by KAIST and Hanhwa, Musk’s apprehension about the risks of AI does appear to be well-founded.

A look at futuristic military combat robots from the US Miliary’s Research Labs.

DARPA-winning robotics team faces boycott over interest in AI weapons development
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