A partnership between the Beijing Institute of Technology (BIT) and some of Beijing's top defense contractors, including Norinco, aims to bring 27 boys and four girls, all under the age of 18, into an elite four-year program, the school's website explains. The program launched at Norinco's headquarters in the Chinese capital October 28.
"These kids are all exceptionally bright, but being bright is not enough," a BIT professor who asked to remain anonymous told the South China Morning Post. They were selected from over 5,000 applicants.
"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," the professor said, "and they must also be patriots."
"We are walking a new path, doing things that nobody has done before," said student representative Cui Liyuan in an official statement.
Each student will be mentored by two senior weapons scientists, Business Insider explains, citing a program brochure: one mentor will be from an academic background and one from the defense industry.
After their first semester, students will choose a specialty field, such as engineering or weapons design, and continue to refine their education in relevant laboratories that combine education and ad practicum shop work.
"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," Eleonore Pauwels, a fellow in emerging cybertechnologies at the Center for Policy Research, United Nations University in New York, told Business Insider.
Pauwels noted that the US operates similar programs through the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping noted the need for a greater national focus on military AI research, and BIT's new program seems to be aimed at addressing that issue. Pauwels said, "This concept is both extremely powerful and troubling."