AI outguns humans in key Stanford reading test

Microsoft's AI now owns the crown with a score of 82.650 on the Stanford University Reading Comprehension test, beating out Alibaba who just a few days earlier was the first to exceed the average human score of 82.304, scoring 82.440.

But how do you assess who is better at reading?

Microsoft also put its AI to the test achieving a score of 82.650 meaning both it and Alibaba are tied for first place on the Stanford leaderboard. Other notable AI programs participating in the test and closing in on beating human scores come from the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Tencent, Salesforce and others.

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Si Luo, a chief scientist of natural language processing at Alibaba's research arm, said the recent breakthrough means that questions such as "what causes rain?" can now be answered with a high level of accuracy by machines. It is perceived as the world's top machine reading comprehension test and attracts universities and institutes ranging from Google, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft to Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University and Allen Research Institute.

A similar technology from Microsoft Research Asia scored 82.640, also beating the humans in January 3 tests.

"These kinds of tests are certainly useful benchmarks for how far along the AI journey we may be", said Andrew Pickup, a spokesman for Microsoft. The company says this raises the prospect that the algorithm could be used to automate human jobs. It's a dataset that consists of over 100,000 questions drawn from thousands of Wikipedia articles. That way, the AI model can only supply specific and precise answers. 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.

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The team at Microsoft Research Asia reached the human parity milestone using the "Stanford Question Answering Dataset", known among researchers as "SQuAD".

Even so, the Alibaba scientist said that the system now only works best with questions that offer clear-cut answers. The learning model can identify questions asked by customers and look for the most relevant answers from a set of prepared materials.

The company had said its AI-powered customer service chatbot, Dian Xiaomi, was used to support its online merchants and served an average of 3.5 million users daily across its Taobao and Tmall platforms.

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