Tag: writing

Computers Can Grade Essays As Well As People Can

By Veronique Greenwood | April 23, 2012 1:49 pm

RS is the average of scores given by two human readers;
all the others are computer programs.

To anyone who’s ever written an essay for a standardized test—be it the SAT, the ACT, the GMAT, or others—it should come as no surprise that getting a high-scoring essay is a matter of following a formula. The SAT is not the time to show off your lyrical ability or demonstrate your awareness of the nuances of morality: when the prompt is “Is it better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?” it’s hard to argue “It depends” in 25 minutes. Just take a stance, come up with two supporting examples, and hammer that baby out.

Turns out, though, that standardized test essays are so formulaic that test-scoring companies can use algorithms to grade them. And before you get worried about machines giving you a bad score because they’ve never taken an English class, said algorithms give the essays the same scores as human graders do, according to a large study that compared nine such programs with humans readers. The team used more than 20,000 essays on eight prompts, and you can see in the figure to the right, the mean scores found by the programs and the people were so close that they appear as one line on a chart of the results.

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Scientist Smackdown: Ancient Indian Hieroglyphs, or Just Pretty Pictures?

By Eliza Strickland | April 23, 2009 5:57 pm

Indus scriptA computer analysis of symbols inscribed on stone tablets and artifacts more than 4,000 years ago has prompted a new debate on a fiercely contested question: Did the people of the Indus Valley civilization have a written language? According to the researchers who conducted the latest analysis, the answer is yes, and the next step is to search for the grammatical rules governing the language. But other researchers have harsh words for the methods used in the study. “As they say: garbage in, garbage out,” [New Scientist], one critic says.

The Indus civilisation flourished in isolation 4,500 years ago along the border of what is now eastern Pakistan, but almost no historical information exists about the people and their long-lost community. Archaeologists working in the region have unearthed a rich hoard of artifacts, including amulets, seals and ceramic tablets, many of which are embellished with the unusual symbols [The Guardian]. But some researchers contend that the symbols are simply religious or political imagery, and that they don’t add up to a language. They note that most of the inscriptions are extremely short (averaging only four or five symbols), and that few symbols are used repeatedly.

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