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AI system beats national average score on university entrance exam

A purpose-built artificial intelligence (AI) system has beaten the average score on the national standardized university entrance exam in a mock test, it was announced on Nov. 14.

    The "Torobo-kun" scored 525 on the practice test for the five-subject, eight-section National Center Test for University Admissions, beating the national average of 454.8 points and taking the machine a step closer to the system development team's ultimate goal: passing the strenuous University of Tokyo entrance exam.

    However, Torobo-kun did score above the 80 percent thought necessary to try for the Kanto region's so-called MARCH private schools (Meiji University, Aoyama Gakuin University, Rikkyo University, Chuo University, and Hosei University) and four of the Kansai region's top private institutions (Kansai University, Kwansei Gakuin University, Doshisha University, and Ritsumeikan University). Torobo-kun apparently isn't quite ready to vie for a spot at Tokyo's famed Keio and Waseda universities, though.

    The AI system has been taking the mock exams since 2013. This school year, some 120,000 people across Japan sat similar tests, and the AI development team analyzed the students' chances of getting passing scores.

    The AI system "Torobo-kun" uses robot arms to write out answers for a mock university entrance exam, in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 14, 2016. (Mainichi)

    "We started this project to find out what AI's possibilities and limitations are. By scoring high enough to get into the MARCH schools, we've hit our first target," said development team leader and National Institute of Informatics professor Noriko Arai. She added that the team's ultimate goal of getting Torobo-kun in range of the University of Tokyo will be put on hold this academic year in favor of "putting our efforts into resolving the issues we've found so far."

    On the secondary exam sections for the University of Tokyo, Torobo-kun scored 80 points on the science and mathematics portions, far outstripping the national average of 30.8 points and hitting a standard deviation of 76.2 (where the mean is 50). On the other hand, the AI system could not understand the questions well in the world history section, and misidentified places and historical eras, resulting in a total exam score just above the national average.

    "Even though Torobo-kun doesn't actually understand the mock exam questions, it still scored higher than most human test-takers," noted Arai. "If this trend continues, children from now on won't have much of a future. I want to help them build skills to open up a lead on AI."

    Torobo-kun's robot arms (dubbed "Torobote-kun") also made their debut on Nov. 14, allowing the AI system to actually write its answers on the test paper in beautifully precise characters. The device, developed by Denso Wave Inc., carries a pen in its right hand and has a camera "eye" in its left, which it also uses to hold down the test paper. The robot wrote out its answers to the world history section, scoring 29 out of 60. The national average is 27.7.

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