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AI teaching assistant answers inquiries with 97% accuracy

Posted: 10 May 2016     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence  artificial intelligence  virtual assistant 

Offered every semester, Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence (KBAI) is a core requirement of Georgia Tech's online master's of science in computer science programme. College of Computing Professor Ashok Goel, who leads the KBAI course, estimates a total of 10,000 messages in the online forums from his 300 or so students. These numbers can be overwhelming for him and his eight teach assistants (TA) to handle.

That's why Goel added a ninth TA this semester. Her name is Jill Watson, and she's unlike any other TA in the world. In fact, she's not even a "she."


Figure 1: Georgia Tech Prof. Ashok Goel says VTAs will make higher education much more effective, efficient and interdisciplinary.

Jill is a computer—a virtual TA—implemented on IBM's Watson platform.

Goel, who is of Indian origin, says he and his peers are on the verge of ushering AI into higher education in bold, new ways.

"The world is full of online classes, and they're plagued with low retention rates," Goel said. "One of the main reasons many students drop out is because they don't receive enough teaching support. We created Jill as a way to provide faster answers and feedback."

Goel and his team of Georgia Tech graduate students started to build her last year. They contacted Piazza, the course's online discussion forum, to track down all the questions that had ever been asked in KBAI since the class was launched in fall 2014 (about 40,000 postings in all). Then they started to feed Jill the questions and answers.

"One of the secrets of online classes is that the number of questions increases if you have more students, but the number of different questions doesn't really go up," Goel said. "Students tend to ask the same questions over and over again."

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