Innovation

It's official, AI is now better at reading comprehension than humans are

Microsoft and Alibaba machines tied for first place, but both beat a human by a slim margin.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • Alibaba and Microsoft AI machines tied for first place in a Stanford reading comprehension test, beating the human score.
  • While the machines only won by tenths of a point, the results suggest AI is on the path to becoming smarter than humans.

Artificial intelligence (AI) from Alibaba and Microsoft beat the human score in a Stanford reading comprehension test, the companies announced separately on Monday.

The Stanford Question Answering Dataset (SQuAD) uses a set of questions and answers about Wikipedia articles, according to our sister site CNET. Microsoft scored 82.65 and Alibaba's score was 82.44, both good for first place, but barely beat the human score of 82.304.

The results, however slim the margin, suggest AI may be able to match or outperform humans in certain tasks. As the field develops, this margin will most likely increase, potentially allowing AI to be smart enough to take over certain jobs—possibly even high-level ones—and let humans focus on others.

SEE: IT leader's guide to the future of artificial intelligence (Tech Pro Research)

With increased machine reading comprehension levels, devices would be able to go through books and documents, returning easy to understand information for humans, Microsoft said in its SQuAD announcement. Faster, more accurate machine-based digestion could help professionals tasked with a lot of reading, like lawyers and doctors, freeing up their time while still comprehending the material.

The technology could also have customer service applications, Alibaba said in their announcement. Dealing with customer inquiries or answering questions in a museum exhibit were two examples.

Despite the Stanford test and Google's AlphaGo beating the world Go champion, AI still has some limitations. One October study found Google's AI was the smartest option currently, but it is not as smart as a 6-year-old.

"Natural language processing is still an area with lots of challenges that we all need to keep investing in and pushing forward," Ming Zhou, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research Asia, said in the announcement. "This milestone is just a start."

AI may be better at ingesting and processing other forms of data, as well. In August, Microsoft set an industry standard for speech recognition, hitting a 5.1% word error rate in identifying conversational speech.

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/PhonlamaiPhoto

About Olivia Krauth

Olivia Krauth is an Education Reporter at Insider Louisville.

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