Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) chose from more than 5,000 candidates for the programme
China has selected 27 boys and four girls, all aged 18 and under for a four-year “experimental programme for intelligent weapons systems” which will help develop killer AI robots in an arms race with the US.
Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) chose from more than 5,000 candidates for the programme.
The BIT, China’s top weapons research institutes, will launch the new programme as part of the competition with the United States to develop deadly AI applications.
“These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough,” said a BIT professor who was involved in the screening process.
“We are looking for other qualities such as creative thinking, willingness to fight, a persistence when facing challenges,” he said. “A passion for developing new weapons is a must … and they must also be patriots.”
According to the South China Morning Post: Each student will be mentored by two senior weapons scientists, one from an academic background and the other from the defense industry, according to the programme’s brochure.
After finishing a short programme of coursework in the first semester, the students will be asked to determine a specialty field, such as mechanical engineering, electronics or overall weapon design.
They will then be assigned to a suitable defense laboratory where they will be able to develop their skills through hands-on experience.
One of the students is Qi Yishen from east China’s Shandong province, who said he had had a keen interest in guns and weapons since he was a young boy and liked reading books and magazines on the subject.
As well as being given an interview for the BIT programme he was in the running for a place at Tsinghua University, one of China’s top seats of learning, but both visits were scheduled for the same day.
“When I arrived in Beijing, I loitered at the railway station for a long time. But then I went to BIT … I couldn’t resist the attraction,” he was quoted as saying on the institute’s website.
He said his decision was also motivated by his father, who wanted him to work in the defense industry.
BIT launched the programme at the headquarters of Norinco, one of China’s biggest defense contractors, on October 28.
“We are walking a new path, doing things that nobody has done before,” said student representative Cui Liyuan in an official statement.
After completing the four-year course, the students are expected to continue on to a Ph.D. programme and become the next leaders of China’s AI weapons programme, the institute said.
Eleonore Pauwels, a fellow in developing cybertechnologies at the Centre for Policy Research, United Nations University in New York, said she was concerned about the launch of the BIT course.
“This is the first university programme in the world designed to aggressively and strategically inspire the next generation to think, design and deploy AI for military research and use.”
While the US had similar programmes, such as those run by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, they operated in relative secrecy and employed only the cream of established scientists, Pauwels said.
In contrast, the BIT programme seemed more focused on training the next generation of students in weaponizing AI, she said.
“This concept is both extremely powerful and troubling.”
Students would conceive and design AI as an engine or an enabling force to weaponize self-learning, intelligent and automated systems, she said.
That knowledge could also be used alongside other new and existing technologies such as biotechnologies, quantum computing, nanotechnology, and robotics, which would have “drastic implications for security and military dominance,” Pauwels said.
“Think of robot swarms capable of delivering harmful toxins in food or biotech supply chains,” she said.
With the undergraduate programme, “you could envision students starting to think about how to control the convergence of AI and genetics systems to design and deploy powerful combinations of weapons that can target, with surgical precision, specific populations,” she said.
“[It] may also lead to new forms of warfare, from highly sophisticated automated cyber attacks to what you could call an ‘internet of Battle Things’, where an array of robots and sensors play a role in defense, offense and in collecting intelligence.”