A decade or so ago, we were debating how to educate Paul Allen’s artificial intelligence in a meeting at Vulcan headquarters in Seattle with researchers from IBM, Cycorp, SRI, and other places.
We were talking about how to “engineer knowledge” from textbooks into formal systems like Cyc or Vulcan’s SILK inference engine (which we were developing at the time). Although some progress had been made in prior years, the onus of acquiring knowledge using SRI’s Aura remained too high and the reasoning capabilities that resulted from Aura, which targeted University of Texas’ Knowledge Machine, were too limited to achieve Paul’s objective of a Digital Aristotle. Unfortunately, this failure ultimately led to the end of Project Halo and the beginning of the Aristo project under Oren Etzioni’s leadership at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.
At that meeting, I brought up the idea of simply translating English into logic, as my former product called “Authorete” did. (We renamed it before Haley Systems was acquired by Oracle, prior to the meeting.)
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Knewton is an interesting company providing a recommendation service for adaptive learning applications. In a recent post, Jonathon Goldman describes an algorithmic approach to generating questions. The approach focuses on improving the manual authoring of test questions (known in the educational realm as “assessment items“). It references work at Microsoft Research on the problem of synthesizing questions for a algebra learning game.
We agree that more automated generation of questions can enrich learning significantly, as has been demonstrated in the Inquire prototype. For information on a better, more broadly applicable approach, see the slides beginning around page 16 in Peter Clark’s invited talk.
What we think is most promising, however, is understanding the reasoning and cognitive skill required to answer questions (i.e., Deep QA). The most automated way to support this is with machine understanding of the content sufficient to answer the questions by proving answers (i.e., multiple choices) right or wrong, as we discuss in this post and this presentation.