An elite group of "patriotic" students in China have been selected to begin training for new artificial intelligence weapons development programme.
The 30-odd kids - all under 18 - have been recruited to participate in the "Experimental Programme for Intelligent Weapons Systems" at the Beijing Institute of Technology, South China Morning Post reported on Thursday, citing an announcement from the Beijing Institute of Technology. The programme selected 27 boys and four girls from more than 5,000 applicants, the school's website said, according to the Post.
"These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough," a BIT professor who asked not to be identified told the Post.
"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."
According to the programme's brochure, each student will be mentored by two weapons scientists with both academic and defence backgrounds. The kids will later be tasked with choosing a specialisation within the weapons sector and will be assigned to the relevant defence laboratory to hone their skills under the guidance of experts.
The institute expects students will go on to complete doctorate degrees and become leaders in the field of AI weapons technology, the Post said.
China has touted its AI development across sectors, including a trillion-dollar autonomous-driving revolution and a massive expansion of its facial-recognition software.
In his keynote speech to the ruling Communist Party last year, President Xi Jinping called for the embedding of artificial intelligence technologies into the economy to create growth and expand its capabilities across industries.
In July, China released its own AI development plan, which proposed building up its domestic AI industry to $150 billion (R2.1 trillion) over the next few years to establish the country as an "innovation centre for AI" by 2030.
And while China has largely kept the development of its AI-weapons technology opaque, Elsa B. Kania an adjunct fellow at the Centre for a New American Security, predicts that China's army will "likely leverage AI to enhance its future capabilities, including in intelligent and autonomous unmanned systems."
China is reportedly working on a fleet of drone submarines in order to give China's navy an advantage at sea. And in April, the Chinese air force released details about an upcoming drill using fully autonomous swarms of drones.
Experts have repeatedly warned about the dangers AI, arguing that advanced systems which can make thousands of complex decisions every second could have "dual-use" to help or harm, depending on its design.
In February, AI experts across industries outlined in a 100-page report the dangers of AI technology and how the technology could be weaponized for malicious use. Aside from using AI technology for attacks in the digital realm, the technology could be used in the physical realm to turn technology, like drones, into weapons and attack targets at the push of a button or the click of a mouse.
In April, China submitted its proposal to the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems announcing its desire to create a new protocol for restricting the use of AI weapons. In its proposal, China highlighted the dangers of AI weaponry, but also stressed the need to continue developing AI technology.
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