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An AI Classmate, Not So Farfetched

Dyllan Furness

Dyllan explores technology and the human condition for Tech Emergence. His interests include but are not limited to whiskey, kimchi, and Catahoulas.

An AI Classmate, Not So Farfetched

College competition is getting tough – but who expected to find a competitor in AI? Developed by academic and corporate researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Informatics (NII), the AI earned higher than average scores on the country’s standard entrance exam which covered subjects like chemistry, trigonometry, and the English language.

The national average on this particular exam is 416 out of 950. The AI earned a humble but capable score of 511, which – according to NII – gave it about an 80 percent change of acceptance to 441 private universities and 33 national universities. Of course, though the AI did remarkably well in math and history, it’s lack of extracurricular activities would no doubt stunt it’s chances against high school volunteers. An NII spokesperson also told The Wallstreet Journal that the AI performed poorly on the physics test, scoring below average due to limited language-processing capabilities. Consider the word problems you’d get back on the SAT, in which the numbers were obvious but the sentences were unclear, winding, and entangled. For the AI, straightforward math problems are no brainers. But questions with mixtures of words and scientific jargon pose a big difficulty.

But this AI is only the beginning – some day it’s engineers want it to match the country’s smartest students. 

The project began back in 2011 in response to a challenge: “Can a robot get into the University of Tokyo?” Tech company Fujitsu Ltd. joined forces with NII to answer this challenge, and with that goal in mind, researchers set 2021 as the deadline by which point NII hopes to develop an AI that’s smart enough to earn scores on par with students admitted to Japan’s prestigious University of Tokyo, also called Todai. Though the Todai Robot has since tackled and done well on the country’s general university entrance exam, Tokyo University requires students to conquer both the general exam and the university’s very own specialized exam, which many deem more difficult.

Despite the apparent desire to get an AI admitted to university, the project’s scientists say their true aim is broader and more applicable. In a statement, Fujitsu researchers emphasized their goal to “enable anyone to easily use sophisticated mathematical analysis tools, which will lead to solutions for a wide range of real-world problems.” Once they’ve created an AI that can solve the word problems discussed above, scientists can apply this technology towards issues as complicated as climate change and economics.

Though we won’t likely meet the Todai Robot (or other AI) as college classmates, students are invited to participate to the ongoing project – with its open research program, the Todai Project welcomes capable professionals and hobbyist scientists and programmers. Participants can download examination questions to test their own programs and review the results of the project proper.  They’re also welcome to contribute their own data to the project in an effort to welcome AI into a new semester of learning.

Credits: Blutegruppe/Corbis

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