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Chinese teen braniacs are being trained to build new AI weapons

Beijing Institute of Technology launches a new programme to further defense interests

A top Chinese university has recruited a select group of whizkids straight from high school to develop new AI weapons.

The Beijing Institute of Technology, which is piloting the scheme, is renowned for weaponry science and technology. It receives funding from the Chinese government, the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense, and other official agencies.

Thirty one teenagers, all under 18 years old, were carefully selected for the “experimental program for intelligent weapons systems,” according to the South China Morning Post.

The students will be expected to knuckle down and choose an area of expertise, ranging from mechanical engineering, electronics and weapon design. The new program was launched by the university at an event held at the headquarters of Norinco, one of the world’s largest defense contractors.

China’s aspirations of becoming the world leader in AI by 2030 are clear. Last year, it laid out its national strategy in “the Next Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan,” a multi-page report outlining three broad steps to achieving dominance.


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First, the country has to play catch up to the rest of the world – particular the US – in terms of technical capabilities by 2020. Second, it should be making scientific breakthroughs and be adept at applying AI to transform a range of industries like transportation to reap economic benefits by 2025. Third, China should have cemented its knowledge and its markets would have matured enough for it to become the world leader.

The first stage is already underway and China is quickly narrowing the gap. Google China's former president Kai-Fu Lee, who is now founder and CEO of Sinovation Ventures previously said that the Chinese counterparts of some of the biggest technology companies and services, for example Google vs Baidu or Facebook Messenger vs WeChat are already on par or even better. Chinese research papers are regularly accepted at top AI conferences.

China has spent billions in funding startups, research and development, and has rolled out AI systems like facial recognition cameras at airports and restaurants. It’s focusing on applying AI for self-driving cars, cybersecurity systems, chips, healthcare and it looks like it’s not shying away from military uses either. ®

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