Although there’s a huge push for robots to understand just like a human does, a set of researchers are trying to demonstrate that actually, understanding isn’t a necessary part of robotics, but what it does with information is more interesting.

The Todai robot was able to write a 600-word essay on maritime trade in the 17th century that could achieve a higher grade than even the most high-performing students. To do that, it simply read articles, put them together in a unique way and hey presto! A top-class piece of work, without it even undertsanding the context.

“Our robot took the sentences from the textbooks and Wikipedia, combined them together, and optimized it to produce an essay without understanding a thing,” Noriko Arai, AI expert and co-developer of Todai explained during a TED Talk. “We humans can understand the meaning. That is something which is very, very lacking in AI.”

The robot also nearly managed to pass the entrance exam for the University of Tokyo, one of the hardest universities in the world to get into. It performed in the top 20% of students and again, managed to answer the questions without having an understanding of context at all.

Rather than celebrating this success though, Arai said it was a cause for concern, because the robot she developed has quite a close similarity to some students that take in facts, then spit them out without ever understanding what they mean.

While humans pass exams like this, robots are becoming more intelligent and could easily surpass the skills humans possess for analysing data.

“So we have to think about a new type of education,” Arai said. “How we humans will coexist with AI is something we have to think about carefully, based on solid evidence. At the same time, we have to think in a hurry because time is running out.”