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.
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“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, 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 influenced by his father, who wanted him to work in the defence industry.
BIT launched the programme at the headquarters of Norinco, one of China’s biggest defence 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 PhD programme and become the next leaders of China’s AI weapons programme, the institute said.