Teaching a computer to play Go at a superhuman level is cool, but not especially useful for you or me. But what if a computer could read a few dozen pages of text, like the manual for a new microwave, and then answer questions about how it works?
Reading and comprehending text is incredibly difficult for computers, but a Canadian company called Maluuba has made progress with an algorithm that can read text and answer questions about it with impressive accuracy. Most importantly, unlike other approaches, it works with just small amounts of text. It might eventually help computers “comprehend” documents.
Researchers from Maluuba posted a paper describing their latest progress last week. It describes an algorithm capable of reading several hundred children’s stories combined with questions and answers about each text. After training, the algorithm could correctly answer multiple-choice questions about an unfamiliar text with more than 70 percent accuracy. The researchers also tested the algorithm on the text of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and found that it could answer questions about that text with similar accuracy.