Reading Comprehension

Building a computer system that can acquire information by reading texts has been a long standing goal of computer science. Consider designing a computer system that can take the following third grade reading comprehension exam:

How Maple Syrup is Made:
Maple syrup comes from sugar maple trees. At one time, maple syrup was used to make sugar. This is why the tree is called a “sugar” maple tree. Sugar maple trees make sap. Farmers collect the sap. The best time to collect sap is in February and March. The nights must be cold and the days warm. The farmer drills a few small holes in each tree. He puts a spout in each hole. Then he hangs a bucket on the end of each spout. The bucket has a cover to keep rain and snow out. The sap drips into the bucket. About 10 gallons of sap come from each hole.

1. Who collects maple sap? (Farmers)
2. What does the farmer hang from a spout? (A bucket)
3. When is sap collected? (February and March)
4. Where does the maple sap come from? (Sugar maple trees)
5. Why is the bucket covered? (to keep rain and snow out)

Such exams measure understanding by asking a variety of questions. Different types of questions probe different aspects of understanding.

Existing techniques currently earn roughly a 40% grade; still failing but encouraging. We will investigate methods by which a computer can understand the text better, and hope that by the end of the workshop the computer will be ready to move on to the fourth grade!


Team Members 
Senior Members
Eric BreckMITRE
Marc LightMITRE
Ellen RiloffUniversity of Utah
Mats RoothUniversity of Stuttgart
Graduate Students
Gideon MannJHU
Mike ThelenUniversity of Utah
Undergraduate Students
Pranav AnandHarvard University
Brianne BrownBryn Mawr College

Center for Language and Speech Processing