Can robots grade student homework as well as human teachers?

Scientists in China working on a 10-year-old project believe they can -- one day.

The South China Morning Post reports that around 60,000 schools -- that’s one in every four in the country -- are taking part in an extensive test that uses AI software to score student essays.

The technology is designed to judge an essay according to its writing style and structure, as well as how well it sticks to a given topic. Researchers say it’s meant to make grading fairer and more accurate.

A government document claims the algorithm and a human grader gave the same score more than 90% of the time. But schools and teachers interviewed by the SCMP said there were many instances where an excellent essay was given a low score.

One user, who ran a Washington Post commentary through the software, said the piece scored 71.5 out of 100 for its “rich and appropriate” use of vocabulary. But it apparently needed improvement in flow and focus.

Participating schools say for now, the AI program is only being used to grade exams that won’t affect a student’s official academic record.

A 2012 study in the US already found that machines were able to score essays on some standardized tests as well as humans. But authors of that study admitted that computers could not appreciate nuanced or creative writing. They also couldn’t check for factual accuracy.

Scientists in the China project say their technology isn’t intended to replace human teachers, but it can potentially help students living in remote areas where access to educational resources is limited.

China has been experimenting with various ways to bring artificial intelligence to the classroom. A textbook on AI has been introduced to dozens of high schools, and kids are being taught robotics and cloud computing. The country aims to become an AI world leader by 2030.