China has enlisted its best and brightest high school students for training to become the world’s youngest Artificial Intelligence (AI) weapons scientists. This move has sparked international controversy.
The AI weapons, also known as “killer robots,” are lethal autonomous weapons that can identify, target, and kill a person without the need of a human to make the final decision to authorize the use of deadly force. The ethical considerations make these weapons quite controversial.
The South China Morning Post reported that 31 high school students, all under the age of 18, were carefully chosen from a pool of 5,000 candidates by the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) for its experimental program for the AI weapons system. According to the article, the students not only had to be exceptionally bright, but also fervently loyal to China, which was an important criterion in the assessment.
A professor who participated in the screening said that these students also have other qualities, such as creative thinking, the willingness to fight, they possess the persistence to face challenges, and have a passion for developing new weapons.
Under this BIT program, every student will be assigned to two senior weapons experts, one of whom is an academic and the other from the defense industry. Upon completion of the 4-year program, the graduates are expected to pursue a doctorate and eventually become China’s AI weapons experts.
The South China Morning Post also reported that China is working on the development of lethal applications ranging from nuclear submarines with self-learning chips to microscopic robots that can crawl into human blood vessels.
China is training these young students for the development despite being one of the 26 countries in the United Nations that have explicitly endorsed the call for a ban on lethal autonomous weapons systems. China’s recruiting of these students has raised questions about China’s true stand on autonomous weapons.
Physicist Max Tegmark, a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and co-founder of the Future of Life Institute, pointed out that China was one of the first superpowers to support the U.N. ban on such weapons and has gone back on its word by moving forward with this program.
Countries around the world are deeply concerned about the development of these weapons in that they may bring devastation to the world. The pervasive concern is that there needs to be a level of human intervention and control.
According to the Future of Life Institute, in July of this year AI companies and researchers jointly signed the Lethal Autonomous Weapons Pledge to “neither participate in, nor support the development, manufacture, trade, or use of lethal autonomous weapons” and to ask that technology companies and organizations, as well as leaders, policymakers and other individuals, to join in this pledge. To date, this pledge has been signed by 241 organizations and over 3,000 individuals.
Translated by Chua BC