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Computer System Automatically Solves Word Problems

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How the new computer system solves algebraic word problems.

A new computer system can solve the type of word problems common in introductory algebra classes.

Credit: Nate Kushman, Regina Barzilay, Yoav Artzi, Luke Zettlemoyer

Researchers at the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT) Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory say they have developed a computer system that can automatically solve the type of word problems common in introductory algebra classes.

They say the system could lead to educational tools that identify errors in students' reasoning or evaluate the difficulty of word problems. The system also could be used solve more complicated problems in geometry, physics, and finance.

"The fact that you're looking across multiple sentences to generate this semantic representation is really something new," says MIT graduate student Nate Kushman.

The system exploits two existing computational tools. Macsyma, a computer algebra system, provides a way to distill algebraic equations with the same general structure into a common template. The other tool is the type of sentence parser used in most natural language-processing research.

The researchers used machine learning to teach the system how to perform that mapping, and to produce the equation templates. In determining how to map natural language onto equation templates, the system examined hundreds of thousands of "features" of the training examples, some of which related specific words to problem types.

From MIT News
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