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Report: China is enlisting its smartest students to develop high-tech AI weapons

Report: China is enlisting its smartest students to develop high-tech AI weapons
[Photo: Dick Thomas Johnson/Wikimedia Commons]

The Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) reportedly has a plan to make Ender’s Game a reality. According to the South China Morning Post, BIT has recruited the best and brightest students (27 boys and four girls, all aged 18 and under) for a highly selective program to develop artificial intelligence weapons systems, like “nuclear submarines with self-learning chips” and “microscopic robots that can crawl into human blood vessels.”

According to a professor who spoke anonymously to SCMP, the students who were recruited are all highly intelligent, but “being bright is not enough,” as BIT also wanted students with qualities like “creative thinking,” “willingness to fight,” persistence, patriotism, and, naturally, “a passion for developing new weapons.”

The students will all be mentored by two senior weapons scientists, one from an academic background and the other from the defense industry, and then choose a speciality field, such as mechanical engineering, electronics, or overall weapon design. After completing the four-year program, the students are expected to continue on to a PhD program, and eventually become the next leaders of China’s AI weapons program.

While the U.S. has similar programs, such as the one run by the DARPA, they tend to hire established scientists, not children. The SCMP did reach out to one of China’s foreign ministers, who said that while the country was “actively engaged in the development and application of AI technology,” it was “very aware of the possible problems with a lethal autonomous weapon system, and promoted the exploration of preventative measures by the international community.”

Still, Stuart Russell, director of the Centre for Intelligent Systems at the University of California, Berkeley, told the SCMP that the BIT program sounded like “a very bad idea” and hoped the class curriculum included a viewing of the film Slaughterbots to scare the tuna salad out the students—and everyone else.

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