Kushman develops computer system that automatically solves word problems


May 16, 2014

Researchers in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, working with colleagues at the University of Washington, have developed a new computer system that can automatically solve the type of word problems common in introductory algebra classes.

In the near term, the work could lead to educational tools that identify errors in students’ reasoning or evaluate the difficulty of word problems. But it may also point toward systems that can solve more complicated problems in geometry, physics, and finance — problems whose solutions don’t appear in the back of the teacher’s edition of a textbook.

According to Nate Kushman, an MIT graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science and lead author on the new paper, the new work is in the field of “semantic parsing,” or translating natural language into a formal language such as arithmetic or formal logic. Most previous work on semantic parsing — including his own — has focused on individual sentences, Kushman says. “In these algebra problems, you have to build these things up from many different sentences,” he says. “The fact that you’re looking across multiple sentences to generate this semantic representation is really something new.”

Continue reading the article on MIT newsphoto courtesy Jose-Luis Olivares

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