By 2020, China-developed artificial intelligence will be smart enough to gain admission to leading universities through the gaokao, China's national college entrance exam.
"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 Co. Ltd., 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, is far more challenging.
"We have found the only way to crack cognitive intelligence," Liu says. He and his company hold that human cognitive intelligence is the result of collision of thought, formed through oral or written communication. "So the key is speech and language."
"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."
The A12 lab of University of Washington, he says, is aiming to pass the American College Testing biology exam. Japan's Todai robot has the goal of competing with other students who want to enter the University of Tokyo by 2021.
Science tests such as math, physics and chemistry are relatively easy for AI because they can be solved with mathematical statistical models, Liu says. Japan's robots have reached the level of an average student in multiple choice exams in math and physics.
The liberal arts - or more specifically, natural language understanding (NLU) - are tougher. "A composition in language or a history test is the most difficult," 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 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 a student's weakness in his or her answer so the student can improve.
South China's Guangdong Province has already used iFLYTEK's grading system in the gaokao English oral test.
More than 80 million Chinese teachers and students are already benefiting from iFLYTEK's education products and Liu believes the market in customized education is potentially huge.