Computers to grade human thought

Have you been frustrated that other humans don’t understand the originality, humanity and depth of your thoughts? Rejoice! The time has come: your scientific, philosophical and political theories will now be judged by a computer. Your poetry too! I kid you not. Here is what the New York Times reports:

Essay-Grading Software Offers Professors a Break


Imagine taking a college exam, and, instead of handing in a blue book and getting a grade from a professor a few weeks later, clicking the “send” button when you are done and receiving a grade back instantly, your essay scored by a software program.

EdX, the nonprofit enterprise founded by Harvard and theMassachusetts Institute of Technology to offer courses on the Internet, has just introduced such a system and will make its automated software available free on the Web to any institution that wants to use it. The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks

that computer still aren’t smart enough perform: walking, emptying garbage cans and flirting with co-eds.

EdX expects its software to be adopted widely by schools and universities. EdX offers free online classes from Harvard, M.I.T. and the University of California, Berkeley; this fall, it will add classes from Wellesley, Georgetown and the University of Texas. In all, 12 universities participate in EdX, which offers certificates for course completion and has said that it plans to continue to expand next year, including adding international schools.

The EdX assessment tool requires human teachers, or graders, to first grade 100 essays or essay questions. The system then uses a variety of machine-learning techniques to train itself to be able to grade any number of essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously.

The software will assign a grade depending on the scoring system created by the teacher, whether it is a letter grade or numerical rank. It will also provide general feedback, like telling a student whether an answer was on topic or not.

Dr. Agarwal said he believed that the software was nearing the capability of human grading.

answers, freeing professors for other tasks.

When asked whether he thinks that computers are now as good as he in abstract thinking, Dr. Agarwal remarked: “Segmentation error. Your application has crashed. Garbage collecting. Please wait… You may reboot in a safe mode now.

“One of our focuses is to help kids learn how to think critically,” said Victor Vuchic, a program officer at the Hewlett Foundation.

And nothing is as good at critical human thinking as computer programs.

Mark D. Shermis, a professor at the University of Akron in Ohio, noted that critics of the technology have tended to come from the nation’s best universities, where the level of pedagogy is much better than at most schools,

especially, apparently, at shit-holes like the University of Akron, where certain professors are much dumber than the Google Translate software, and tell New York Times reporters the stupidest things.

And speaking of the Google Translate, here is what happens when you let this pinnacle of machine intelligence translate a phrase for you:

Only brain-dead don’t get it that machines suck big time at grasping human meaning (English)
Только смерть мозга не понимаю, что машины сосать большой время захвата человеческого смысла (Russian)
فقط مرگ از مغز را درک نمی کنند که ماشین خورد بزرگ زمان، به معنای جذب انسان (Persian)
Only the death of the brain did not realize the car was great, meant to attract human (English)


  • Robert
  • Syracuse

A few years back I held a contest in my Minds & Machines class (at Syracuse University) to have students write the most nonsensical essay that could get the highest grade from a previous version of an essay rater. The winner was a psychological essay on “childhood attachment” that among other things discussed tying your children to a radiator and keeping them immobile to make them more tender when ultimately cooked.

  • Diane
  • Boston

If you can write code to grade a paper, I can write code to write a paper.

  • Scorpio69er
  • Hawaii

In a related story, the Delta Tau Chi fraternity has developed software that uses artificial intelligence to write student essays and short written answers, freeing students for other tasks.

  • Daniel Pereira
  • Va

As a college student, I would have no problem having a computer grading my essay as long as the school had no problem with me having a computer program write it for me.

  • Michael Barrera
  • New Orleans, LA
I have a hard time justifying soaring tuition costs when a student can’t even receive a grade from a human professor.

  • SW
  • Belleville, NJ

Maybe they should develop a computer program for making administrative decisions and communicating them. Then use the money saved by replacing overpaid administrators to give teachers smaller classes and decent salaries.

  • Socrates
  • Downtown Verona NJ

The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks….like standing in the unemployment line.

  • NYB
  • GA

“The software uses artificial intelligence to grade student essays and short written answers, freeing professors for other tasks.”  As a professor myself, I’m very afraid that “other tasks” will include “reading want ads” if this catches on too widely.

  • Jean
  • Berlin

Did the New York Times run this article by the robot grader to check for “biased reporting”? New York Times, please stop running ads for these private education companies as “news.”


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