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China handpicks 31 high school students to develop AI weapons systems

The 31 students, including four girls, will be the first batch to take the four-year course of “experimental programme for intelligent weapons systems”.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2018 13:01 IST
Hindustan Times
artifical intelligence
The Chinese government has for the first time recruited 31 high school students to take part in an experimental Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven programme to develop intelligent weapons systems at the elite Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The Chinese government has for the first time recruited 31 high school students to take part in an experimental Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven programme to develop intelligent weapons systems at the elite Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).

The 31 students, including four girls, will be the first batch to take the four-year course of “experimental programme for intelligent weapons systems”.

The recruits will begin training as the world’s youngest AI scientists at BIT, which is among China’s leading weapons research institutes, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) said in a report.

More than 5,000 had applied for the 31 seats. The programme was launched at the headquarters of Norinco, one of China’s biggest defence contractors on October 28.

The news about the new batch was published on the website of BIT but subsequently deleted. An online snapshot of the BIT article provided details about the programme and what it aims to achieve.

Quoting a statement from the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the BIT website article said the new batch was an effort to implement the idea of “establishing science and technology as the core combat capability,” and “…cultivating urgently needed talents and providing important support for building a first-class national defence science and technology industrial system”.

Chen Pengwan, dean of the College of Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, introduced it saying “…the institute decided to establish the experimental class for intelligent weapons system for the development of weapons and defence and national defence equipment, preparing for modern warfare”.

“We must be independent and do things that others have not done. But at the same time, we should do more,” Cui Liyuan, a student representative, was quoted as saying in the BIT statement.

“Each student will be mentored by two senior weapons scientists, one from an academic background and the other from the defence industry,” said the programme’s brochure, quoted by SCMP.

China is second only to the US in the fast-developing AI industry.

“By the end of 2017, China had 18,232 AI technology research talents, accounting for 8.9% of the world’s total and was second only to the United States, which accounted for 13.9%,” official news agency Xinhua said in a report in September.

“The market value of China’s AI industry reached 23.7 billion yuan (about $3.5 billion) in 2017, with the growth rate expected to reach 75% in 2018,” the report added.

China clearly is investing a chunk of that money and technology to develop smart and unmanned weapons.

First Published: Nov 09, 2018 08:14 IST