Question asking as program generation

Anselm Rothe, Brenden M. Lake, Todd M. Gureckis

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


A hallmark of human intelligence is the ability to ask rich, creative, and revealing questions. Here we introduce a cognitive model capable of constructing humanlike 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1047-1056
Number of pages10
JournalAdvances in Neural Information Processing Systems
StatePublished - 2017
Event31st Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems, NIPS 2017 - Long Beach, United States
Duration: Dec 4 2017Dec 9 2017

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems
  • Signal Processing


Dive into the research topics of 'Question asking as program generation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this