The ability to talk with an artificial intelligence (AI), be it a computer or robot, has been a staple of science fiction for decades. Despite modern advances, anyone who has used Siri, Alexa, Cortana or the Google Assistant knows we’re still a ways off from what’s portrayed in science fiction.
Chinese tech giant Baidu has just taken a big step in that direction, however. According to the MIT Technology Review, Baidu has leapfrogged Microsoft and Google in helping AI better understand language.
General Language Understanding Evaluation (GLUE) is the industry benchmark used to gauge an AI’s language comprehension skills. For perspective, most humans manage a score of 87 out of 100. Baidu’s model, however, scored a 90—a first for AI models.
The team attributed their breakthrough with ERNIE (Enhanced Representation through kNowledge IntEgration) to the steps they needed to take in order to help it understand Chinese. The most advanced AI language models use a technique called “masking,” where the AI randomly hides words in order to predict the meaning of the sentence. Because of the differences between Chinese and English, Baidu “researchers trained ERNIE on a new version of masking that hides strings of characters rather than single ones. They also trained it to distinguish between meaningful and random strings so it could mask the right character combinations accordingly.”
Not only did this method allow ERNIE to better understand Chinese language, but those lessons also improved its English processing, enabling it to achieve the highest GLUE score yet. Hopefully, this breakthrough will help pave the way for the type of AI interactions that have, so far, existed only in the realm of science fiction.