Computer Learns to Understand Written Text

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Computers: They sure can do a lot of things now. But how smart are they really? A new MIT study says they're catching up to us, as they're beginning to understand the meaning of written, human-readable, English-language text. You know, like human beings. To prove this, a computer at MIT was forced to play the complex video game Civilization. At first, it wasn't given any help but simply informed when it was winning and losing. Then researchers "augmented a machine-learning system" with a Civilization instruction manual:


"As the computer acts, different words appear on screen, and it can look for instances of those words in the instruction set. It can also search the surrounding text for associated words, and develop hypotheses about what actions those words correspond to. Hypotheses that consistently lead to good results are given greater credence, while those that consistently lead to bad results are discarded."

Exposed to the written text, the computer won 79 percent of the games it played, while a version that didn't rely on the written instructions won only 46 percent. A computer science professor at Brown was stunned: "If you’d asked me if I thought we could do this yet, I’d have said no," he said. So now we're gently rocking back and forth mumbling, "But computers can't read ... " It's a matter of minutes before people start marrying them, and from there they'll obviously turn on us.

Computer learns language by playing games [MIT via Metafilter]
Related: They Invented a Computer That Understands ‘That’s What She Said’