Question Asking as Program Generation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 30 (NIPS 2017)

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Anselm Rothe, Brenden M. Lake, Todd Gureckis


A hallmark of human intelligence is the ability to ask rich, creative, and revealing questions. Here we introduce a cognitive model capable of constructing human-like questions. Our approach treats questions as formal programs that, when executed on the state of the world, output an answer. The model specifies a probability distribution over a complex, compositional space of programs, favoring concise programs that help the agent learn in the current context. We evaluate our approach by modeling the types of open-ended questions generated by humans who were attempting to learn about an ambiguous situation in a game. We find that our model predicts what questions people will ask, and can creatively produce novel questions that were not present in the training set. In addition, we compare a number of model variants, finding that both question informativeness and complexity are important for producing human-like questions.