Academics hit out at South Korean university over killer robot fears

Dozens of academics from around the world are threatening to boycott a South Korean university over its partnership with a weapons manufacturer.

The group of researchers, including some from New Zealand, are concerned the new alliance will lead to the development of killer robots.

Killer robots are autonomous military machines designed to select and attack targets without human intervention.

Like a drone or tank that thinks for itself and decides when to fire.

University of Auckland senior lecturer Dr Paul Ralph said "The big thing that we're worried about is that building autonomous weapons will lower the risks of going to war.

"If you have autonomous weapons, no one dies if they blow up."

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) recently announced a new research partnership with arms company Hanwha.

Fifty academics from around the world, including a professor from the University of Waikato, have signed an open letter to KAIST threatening a boycott.

They say they won't visit the university, host visitors from the campus or contribute to any research involving KAIST unless they promise not to develop autonomous weapons.

KAIST has since fired back saying it doesn't intend to develop such technology.

But the issue has sparked fear of another arms race.

"People need to start treating autonomous weapons systems as extraordinarily dangerous," Dr Ralph said.

"We don't need more effective weapons. We seem very good at killing each other with the weapons we already have."

The United Nations will meet in Geneva on Monday to discuss how to contain the threat of autonomous weapons, including a possible worldwide ban and sanctions.