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When AI Asks Dumb Questions, It Gets Smart Fast

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Many AI systems become smarter by relying on a brute-force method called machine learning: they find patterns in data to, say, figure out what a chair looks like after analyzing thousands of pictures of furniture.

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New research suggests patiently correcting artificial intelligence (AI) when it asks dumb questions may be key to helping the technology learn.

Stanford University scientists trained a machine learning AI to identify gaps in its knowledge, as well as to formulate often-stupid questions about images that strangers would answer.

When people responded, the system received feedback prompting it to adjust its inner mechanisms to behave similarly in the future; the researchers also "rewarded" the AI for writing smart questions to which humans responded.

The AI absorbed lessons in language and social norms over time, refining its ability to compose sensible and easily answerable queries.

The researchers said the system's accuracy at answering questions similar to those it had asked improved 118% over eight months and across more than 200,000 questions.

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