The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology is a world-renowned research university, which is now known most famously for its humanoid robot HUBO (video below), which carried the torch during the relay for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Oh yes, it also produced the more menacing and much larger FX2 robot (video above), which can carry a human.


As robots go, they’re both very impressive and formidable if you even begin to think of the ways they can be used. You can see more of what they can already do here.

So when KAIST announced in February that it was launching a joint research facility in partnership with Hanwha Systems, which happens to be one of South Korea’s largest weapons manufacturers, this raised alarms across the world and sparked concerns over possible “killer robots”. The Korean Times reported that the goal of the research centre is to “develop artificial intelligence technologies to be applied to military weapons” that would “search for and eliminate targets without human control.”

In response, more than 50 leading artificial intelligence and robotics researchers led by Professor Toby Walsh from the University of South Wales have signed an open letter declaring they will boycott the South Korean university and the defence manufacturers over this partnership. The researchers said they would boycott all collaborations of any kind with the university over fears that it “looks to accelerate the arms race to develop (autonomous) weapons”. Or at least until the President of KAIST provides them assurance that they will not develop autonomous weapons lacking “meaningful human control.”

Confused about what autonomous weapons mean exactly? Think Terminator.

“If developed, autonomous weapons will be the third revolution in warfare. They will permit war to be fought faster and at a scale greater than ever before. They have the potential to be weapons of terror...This Pandora’s box will be hard to close if it is opened,” said the letter (full text here).

KAIST’s president, Sung-Chul Shin, however, said he was saddened to hear of the boycott. According to The Guardian, he said in a statement, “I would like to reaffirm that KAIST does not have any intention to engage in development of lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots.” He added, “As an academic institution, we value human rights and ethical standards to a very high degree. KAIST will not conduct any research activities counter to human dignity including autonomous weapons lacking meaningful human control.”

Meanwhile, here’s one more reminder of what that people-carrying robot can do.