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AI system finally passes 8th-grade science test

Aristo AI program
The Aristo AI software has matched an eighth-grader’s ability to pass a science test. (AI2 Illustration)

Five years after the late Seattle billionaire Paul Allen challenged researchers to come up with an artificial intelligence program smart enough to pass an eighth-grade science test, that feat has been declared accomplished — by the hometown team.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, announced today that its Aristo software scored better than 90% on a multiple-choice test geared for eighth graders, and better than 80% on a test for high school seniors.

There are caveats, of course: The exam, which was based on New York Regents aptitude tests, excluded questions that depended on interpreting pictures or diagrams. Those questions would have required visual interpretation skills that aren’t yet programmed into Aristo. Questions requiring a direct answer (that is, essay questions) were also left out. And for what it’s worth, Aristo would have been useless outside the areas of science in which it was trained.

Nevertheless, the exercise illustrated how far AI has come just since 2016, when all of the programs competing in the $80,000 Allen AI Science Challenge flunked.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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