Chinese researchers claimed this month to develop an artificial intelligence system that can independently design new hypersonic weapons, a claim that if true could catapult China further ahead of the United States in the missile race.

The Sichuan-based research team said that their AI system could identify most of the shock waves produced during hypersonic wind tunnel tests and that it had independently built without human intervention a knowledge base to develop new engines for hypersonic missiles or even in future planes.

Hypersonic wind tunnel tests produce thousands of images per second, which then must be manually scrutinized pixel by pixel by researchers to uncover theoretical or engineering problems. As such, this traditional human method can be laborious, time-consuming and costly.