Sep. 12, 2012 at 1:12 PM ET
University entrance exams have been the stuff of cram sessions and nightmares for people around the world for centuries. Now, it’s a robot’s turn to sweat.
Researchers in Japan are betting that with a few years of programming, they can outfit a machine with enough artificial intelligence to pass the math section of the country’s equivalent to the SAT and, by 2021, the University of Tokyo’s more demanding entrance exam.
Todai, as university is called, is one of the country’s most prestigious schools. The Todai Robot project was started in 2011 by the National Institute of Informatics to develop a robot that’s able to pass the test in a bid to push the envelope of artificial intelligence. On Monday, Fujitsu Laboratories joined the effort.
While super smart robots are already in the offing, as demonstrated by IBM's trivia champ Watson on the game show "Jeopardy" in 2011, the skills required to pass the math test present a unique set of challenges, according to Fujitsu.
To solve these problems, a robot must first be able to convert the problem text, which reads in natural language – (think: A train leaves Tokyo at 8:30 in the morning going 120 miles per hour … ) – into a form that a computer program can execute.
More than just analyzing words, this task “involves skillfully integrating mathematical terminology and a high-school level understanding of math. Beyond that, it needs to decide the best way for the computer to solve the problem,” Fujitsu said in a statement.
To date, the artificial intelligence solves 50 to 60 percent of the entrance exam problems correctly, not nearly well enough to get into university. Fujitsu thinks it can help the project meet its goal.
If the researchers are successful in their efforts, students may no longer need to acquire sophisticated math skills to do well in school. Such artificially intelligent robots will in a sense be tomorrow’s calculators.
“The hope is that the technologies developed as part of this project will enable anyone to easily use sophisticated mathematical analysis tools, which will lead to solutions for a wide range of real-world problems, and even automation of mathematical analysis and optimization,” Fujitsu said.