Fujitsu to build software robot to pass college entrance exams

The electronics giant aims to make software that can compete with students on the math entrance exam of a top Japan college

Fujitsu said Monday it will lead a project to create artificial intelligence capable of passing the math portion of the entrance exams to one of Japan's top universities.

The company's research division said its goal is to make software by 2021 that can complete exactly the same math test that hopeful teenagers take when applying to Tokyo University, or "Todai," known for its grueling entrance requirements. The project will need to process text and formulas meant for human eyes, extract the math problems and convert them into a form meant for computers, and then solve the problems at the level of Japan's top high school students.

"Each of these steps still poses major theoretical and practical problems, and for each one, the solution will involve an appropriate combination of various technologies," Fujitsu said in a statement.

Sample questions from previous tests posted online show world problems that must be solved in consecutive stages, geometry problems that refer to drawn diagrams, and problems that require the application of specific equations memorized by test takers.

Currently, only about half of the problems on some such tests can be solved by computers alone, even using advanced algorithms, the company said. The exam problems will also have to be solved quickly and without mistakes.

A software robot that could pass university entrance tests would strike a major emotional chord in the country, where the tests are a major part of society. Most students attend cram schools for years to prepare for the tests, in addition to their normal schools, and often become full time cram-school students if they fail to get into the university of their choice. Sample problems are published in national newspapers each year, and TV stations cover the posting of results outside the buildings of top universities.

Fujitsu said it hopes to use technology developed in the project to create intelligent systems that are capable of performing advanced analysis on themselves, for self-optimization and similar tasks.

The electronics conglomerate will oversee the math portion of a larger project announced last year that aims to pass all subjects of the entrance exams at the university, called "Can a robot enter Todai?" The project is being run by the National Institute of Informatics, a publicly funded software research foundation.

Its stated goal is to create software capable of achieving a strong score on the tests by 2016, then get marks high enough to win entrance by 2021. It was founded as a way to unify the increasingly diverse areas of study in artificial intelligence.

Any robots that do wish to take the entrance exams should be careful, as calculators and other electronics are forbidden by the university.

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