Developers hope AI will be able to ace gaokao in near future

Source:Xinhua Published: 2015-12-27 19:18:01

A robot teaches students in Jiujiang University, East China's Jiangxi Province on June 3. The robot, invented by the university, is able to communicate with students. Photo: CFP

By 2020, domestically-developed artificial intelligence (AI) will be smart enough to pass China's national college entrance examinations and gain admission to leading universities, developers have claimed.

"Our goal is to make our robots smart enough to enter first-class Chinese universities in three to five years," Liu Qingfeng, president of tech firm iFLYTEK, said Monday at the company's annual launch in Beijing.

Liu believes artificial intelligence has three layers: computational intelligence, perceptive intelligence and cognitive intelligence. Robots have rivaled or surpassed the human brain in the first two layers. However, artificial cognitive intelligence, the ability to think and understand that one would need to get a top score on an exam like the gaokao, is far more challenging.

"We have found the only way to crack cognitive intelligence," Liu claims. He and his company hold that human cognitive intelligence is the result of thoughts colliding, formed through oral or written communication. "So the key is speech and language."

Teacher's assistant

"It is easy for a robot to sit the gaokao because machines are strong in memory," Liu says. "But it is hard for them to surpass 80 percent of human candidates and qualify for first-class universities."

Tests on math, physics and chemistry are relatively easy for AI because they can be solved with mathematical statistical models, Liu says.

The liberal arts - or more specifically, natural language understanding (NLU) - are tougher. "A composition in language or a history test is the most difficult part," Liu says. "NLU is what iFLYTEK focuses on."

While the target is set, the ultimate goal is not to beat the human brain, but to advance human intelligence.

"Most schools never satisfy all students," Liu says. Fast learners find their time is wasted in class while slow learners feel frustrated if they cannot keep up. Teachers must often spend time grading answer sheets instead of helping underachievers.

"Thanks to the technology of handwriting recognition, speech recognition and automatic grading, AI can meet each student's needs and lessen the teacher's burden now." Liu shows how robots can recognize notes on a piece of homework and give it a score. It can also identify the weakness in a student's answer so they can improve.

South China's Guangdong Province has already used iFLYTEK's grading system in the gaokao English oral exams.

Journalist's helper

As Liu addressed the audience, two big screens on each side of the stage were turning his speech into text through a product called Iflyrec.

For journalists present this seemed like a long-overdue innovation, but Liu said it posed many difficulties.

He raised the example of the smart home. If you want to control electric appliances using your voice, AI must recognize your voice by suppressing noise in the house. When you are talking with the television on, the robot must cancel the sound of the TV.

As the words flowed onto the screens, five stenographers competed with the machine in shorthand. After assessing a random extract of 1,000 words, the robot won with an accuracy rate of 99.29 percent, compared to 80.84 percent for the best stenographer.

Asked if robots might replace human reporters, Hu Yu, vice president of iFLYTEK, replies, "Rest easy - robots excel in computation and, of course, they are better compilers of data. But they cannot create stories."

Thinking machine

"'A father cannot lift his son because he is too heavy.' Can a robot tell who 'he' is?

"This question is very easy for humans, but too hard for a robot," Hu says. It requires the machine to be able to comprehend the sentence.

iFLYTEK began its "Hyper Brain Project" last year to develop AI cognitive intelligence. "This cognitive revolution revolves, on the surface, around NLU, but by nature, it's cognition of the whole world, the universe and human society," Hu says.

"A cognitive intelligence system is developed on the basis of perceptive intelligence," Hu says. "When you see a cat, the concept of 'cat' forms in your brain. You begin to think of its mew and how its fur feels."

iFLYTEK has developed neural machines for collecting perceptions, such as visual and audio information. When they have enough information, it will be gathered by a Neural Thinking Machine for reasoning and making conclusions, so that we can make better decisions. The result of the decision will be expressed via a Neural Expressing Machine, forming a closed loop that contains all of a human's intelligence.

"We don't have to copy the brain," Hu says. "Our job is to find the true principles and secrets of the brain."

Newspaper headline: Silicon student

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