Japanese Robot to Take College Entrace Exams

Japanese scientists from Fujitsu and Japan’s National Institute of Informatics are working together on developing a robot to undertake the entrance exams at Japan’s top university, Tokyo University. This remarkable escapade is in response to the challenge ‘Can a Robot Pass the Todai Entrance Exam’? Entrance exams in Japan are reknowned for being extremely difficult and stressful for high school students who attend specialist ‘cram schools’ to aid in their revision for these tests.  Many Japanese students are left bitterly disappointed by their failed results every year, but will the ‘Todai robot’ be able to make the grade?

The Tokyo University entrance exam, or Todai, consists of a general university entrance exam administered by the National Centre for University Entrance Examinations and its own specialised test. The scores are combined to determine the successful candidates. Todai covers a breadth of areas such as mathematics, chemistry, history, social studies and foreign languages that the researchers are hoping the robot would excel at with its high intellectual capacity. A major focus by the researchers will be the robot’s mathematics skills as this is a core subject for the examinations regardless of the department a student is applying for.

The artificial brain of the robot would analyse and process a mixture of words, numbers and equations before providing the (hopefully) correct answer. Hideno Iwane from Fujitsu Laboratories explains what the scientists are working on: “NII and Fujitsu Laboratories jointly aim to develop the technologies needed for human-centric IT. These include formula recognition methods to recognize and interpret problem texts and put it into a data format that a computer can understand; natural language processing to generate a formula representation that the formula solver can understand; and formula-processing technology that can solve the composed formula quickly and accurately.”

Fujitsu Laboratories claimed that their goal was not merely for their robot to excel at the examinations. It is, in fact, to “enable anyone to easily use sophisticated mathematical analysis tools, which will lead to solutions for a wide range of real-world problems”. For example, a Fujitsu spokesperson said that the robot may be able to provide assistance to developers in cost cutting options. It stands to reason that it could even provide a friendly interface for resolving complicated technical IT support problems – “Robot, figure out why my computer is crashing so frequently!”

However, for the moment, the robot is only able to solve 60% of the mathematics problems in the Todai which is obviously not sufficient to ‘make the grade’ as so to speak. The project conditions are to manufacture a robot to undertake the Japan’s natonwide university entrance exams by 2016, and then be able to score high marks for the more complicated Todai, by 2021. The scientists have about 9 years to reach their ultimate goal, will that be enough time for the robot to move from the equivalent of a D grade student to an all time genius? Only time will tell!