Robots Sit in on Gaokao, China’s National College Entrance Exam

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8:21 AM HKT, Sat June 10, 2017 1 mins read

Two special examinees participated in the math portion of China’s grueling national college entrance exam — gaokao — on Wednesday. The first, “Aidam” from Beijing, completed the paper exam in 9 minutes and 47 seconds, while the other participant, “AI-MATHS” from Chengdu, Sichuan Province, finished in 22 minutes.

They were both robots, of course — Aidam developed by Xuebajun Company, and AI-MATHS by Zhun Xing Yun Xue Technology Company. It’s reported that Aidam’s processing had to be slowed down up to six times its normal rate so that the result would be more realistic.

But where these robots excelled at speed, they gave up in actual test-taking ability. Out of 150, Aidam scored 134 — not bad, but not as high as top-tier humans — while AI-MATHS scored a paltry 105. I can tell you, I scored much higher than 105.

Fu Hongguang, who led Zhun Xing Yun Xue’s development team, had this to say before the test, as reported by Xinhua:

…the key to passing the exam includes understanding the language and knowledge inference. They have built a huge knowledge database for the machine to understand the questions.

“For instance, to solve the chicken-rabbits problem (calculating the numbers of chicken and rabbits kept in the same cage given the number of total legs and heads), it must know that chicken have two legs and rabbits have four,” Fu said.

The project began in 2015, and this year marked the first time an AI sat for the gaokao, the annual standardized college entrance exam that saw 9.4 million takers this year. Both robots scored higher than the human average.

According to Aidam’s chief scientist, Feng Chenrui, Aidam takes three steps to answer each math problem: first it has to decode what it reads into computer language, next it finds the correct reference point to approach the problem, and finally it translates its output into intelligible written form.

Artificial intelligence has been at the forefront of the news recently. Earlier this month, Google-designed AlphaGo rattled the human world by defeating Chinese Go master Ke Jie in a clean sweep, three games to zero. The AI then immediately retired from competition.

The average student takes two hours to complete the math portion of the gaokao. Some complained on social media that they couldn’t even finish at the AI’s speed even if they copied answers directly. A serious debate has risen among scholars who wonder whether the education industry will be turned upside down by the introduction of AI in the next decade.

Meanwhile, Xuebajun, the company that manufactured Aidam, proudly declared on social media: “Today we took a major step forward in history. From now on, humans and AI will begin to learn from each other, forge ahead toward a better future.”

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