As the United Nations continues to drag its heels on developing a clear international treaty relating to lethal autonomous weapons, South Korea has just announced a major investment in artificial intelligence and military systems with the goal of applying AI to various defense projects.
Hanwha Systems, South Korea's leading defense company, is joining forces with government-run research university KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) to launch a new facility dedicated to developing AI-based military innovations. The facility, opened on February 20, is called the Research Center for the Convergence of National Defense and Artificial Intelligence.
Four areas of research have initially been announced, covering, "AI-based command and decision systems, composite navigation algorithms for mega-scale unmanned undersea vehicles, AI-based smart aircraft training systems, and AI-based smart object tracking and recognition technology."
The announcement comes at a time of increasing global concern over the development of autonomous military weapons. Last year, a big push from scientists and researchers called for an international treaty banning the development of autonomous weapons, yet movement from the Uniter Nations has been glacial.
The UN initially started discussions for developing a set of rules as part of its Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) held in November last year, but serious doubts were quickly raised after Russia outright refused to support what it dubbed "a preventative ban on prospective types of weapons." This also coincided with a revelation last year that the nation is actively pursuing the development of autonomous weapons with arms manufacturer Kalashnikov.
Russia isn't the only major power that is seriously working on AI military systems. The United States recently revealed the first step in a new autonomous combat program nicknamed, "Wingman". The official stance from the US regarding AI weapons is that a soldier will be kept in the loop, with lethal force never deployed without human approval.
South Korea allegedly already has autonomous-capable sentry robots patrolling its border with North Korea, but reports suggest they cannot fire without human approval. This latest announcement is not an unprecedented move, but it does add yet another major military power to the list of those seriously developing AI weapons, making any potential UN move on the issue increasingly futile.
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