A group of some of China’s smartest students have been recruited straight from high school to begin training as the world’s youngest AI weapons scientists.
The 27 boys and four girls, all aged 18 and under, were selected for the four-year “experimental programme for intelligent weapons systems” at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) from more than 5,000 candidates, the school said on its website.
The BIT is one of the country’s top weapons research institutes, and the launch of the new programme is evidence of the weight it places on the development of AI technology for military use.
China is in competition with the United States and other nations in the race to develop deadly AI applications – from nuclear submarines with self-learning chips to microscopic robots that can crawl into human blood vessels.
“These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough,” said a BIT professor who was involved in the screening process but asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“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.”
Each student will be mentored by two senior weapons scientists, one from an academic background and the other from the defence industry, according to the programme’s brochure.
After completing a short programme of course work in the first semester, the students will be asked to choose a speciality field, such as mechanical engineering, electronics or overall weapon design. They will then be assigned to a relevant defence 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 enjoyed reading books and magazines on the subject.
As well as being offered an interview for the BIT programme he was in the running for a place at Tsinghua University,