A top Chinese research institute has reportedly recruited 27 boys and 4 girls, aged 18 and under, to train in AI weapons technology. Beijing’s involving children in AI weapons development comes amid a global call for stricter regulations on the nascent technology. Bringing AI weapons tech together with children raises red flags on many levels.
Chinese AI military ambitions
The high school students were selected from almost 5,000 candidates and will participate in a 4-year “experimental program for intelligent weapons systems” at the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT).
“These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough… We are looking for other qualities such as creative thinking, willingness to fight, a persistence when facing challenges… A passion for developing new weapons is a must … and they must also be patriots,” a BIT professor said to Business Insider.
Every student will individually be mentored by two senior weapons scientists during the course. One of the experts will be from the defense industry while the other person will come from an academic background.
Once the students complete a short program of coursework during the first semester, they will be required to select a specialization like electronics, mechanical engineering, or just general weapons design. Subsequently, the students will be assigned to defense research labs to gain hands-on experience. Once they complete the course, each student becomes eligible to receive an annual scholarship of 10,000 Yuan (US$1,450).
“This is the first university program in the world designed to aggressively and strategically encourage the next generation to think, design, and deploy AI for military research and use… This concept is both extremely powerful and troubling… Think of robot swarms capable of delivering harmful toxins in food or biotech supply chains,” Eleonore Pauwels, a Research Fellow on Emerging Cybertechnologies at United Nations University Centre for Policy Research, said to South China Morning Post.
The program was launched by BIT at the headquarters of one of China’s biggest defense contractors, Norinco, on October 28, 2018. The introduction of the course signals Beijing’s intense desire to develop AI weapons.
Preventing AI weapons
While China is pursuing the development of AI weapons, the global scientific community is busy creating a framework to ban the weaponization of Artificial Intelligence.
In July this year, The Future of Life Institute from Boston organized a mass campaign to enact a preemptive ban on AI weapons. The campaign succeeded in getting more than 2,400 reputed scientists and leaders to sign the pledge in support of the cause, including Elon Musk from Space X and Demis Hassabis from Google’s DeepMind.
“We need to make it the international norm that autonomous weapons are not acceptable. A human must always be in the loop… We cannot stop a determined person from building autonomous weapons, just as we cannot stop a determined person from building a chemical weapon… But if we don’t want rogue states or terrorists to have easy access to autonomous weapons, we must ensure they are not sold openly by arms companies,” Toby Walsh, a professor of AI at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said to The Guardian.
Despite such widespread efforts, militaries across the world continue to invest heavily in AI weapons. China’s aggressive development of such weapons will only speed up the global rush. Recruiting of children, although under supervision from adults, will be observed closely by other power nations.