Original news release was issued by Georgia Institute of Technology by Jason Maderer.
At Georgia Tech, Knowledge Based Artificial Intelligence (KBAI) is a mandatory class when pursuing online master’s degree in Computer Science. It is taught by Professor Ashok Goel and as it happens with popular classes, the students have questions even before they start. For the most part, it is the job of teaching assistants (TA) to answer them, but even then it might not be enough to answer 10 000 questions asked about Ashok Goel’s class. So far, professor Goel had the help of eight TAs, but this semester, he ‘hired’ another one.
Her name is Jill Watson. Naturally she inherited her surname after her parent – IBM’s Watson Platform. Jill is a computer, a virtual teaching assistant, first of its kind. Jill’s origins go back to the last year, when Ashok Goel, together with graduate students, got access to all the questions and answers on the forum of KBAI course. They they let Miss Jill Watson to go over them, and prepare for the start of the next semester.
“Initially her answers weren’t good enough because she would get stuck on keywords,” said Lalith Polepeddi, one of the graduate students who co-developed the virtual TA. “For example, a student asked about organizing a meet-up to go over video lessons with others, and Jill gave an answer referencing a textbook that could supplement the video lessons — same keywords — but different context.”
This was predicted, and that is why her initial answers were not visible to the students. Jill just had to get accustomed to the job, and soon she was answering with 97 percent certainty that she is correct. Goel and his team concluded in March, that she could interact directly with the students, if the certainty is at least 97%. Other replies were supervised by human TAs. On April 26, Goel told his students, that they were unknowingly interacting with an AI, while studying it.
One student (out of three hundred) however, had some suspicions about Jill back in February.
“We were taking an AI course, so I had to imagine that it was possible there might be an AI lurking around,” said Tyson Bailey, who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The realization was overwhelming for the students, even mind-blowing for some. The goal of Jill is to answer 40% of all the questions by the end of this year. It is also noted that next semester she will return under a different name. Virtual teaching assistant technology could be used on many different schools, saving a lot of valuable time.