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Dynamically Generated Follow-up Questions
July 1996 (vol. 29 no. 7)
pp. 75-86

Automatic text generators are at the heart of systems that provide users with information. The trick is getting the system to answer follow-up questions as naturally as possible. But even in moderately complex domains, the task of handcrafting explanations using "canned" text or templates is so time-consuming and error-prone that it becomes infeasible. Furthermore, these techniques cannot be extended to let a system consider the user's prior knowledge, past problem-solving experiences, or the preceding dialogue. To overcome these limitations, researchers have focused on automatically synthesizing text directly from underlying knowledge bases. Automatic text-generation systems pose new opportunities--and new problems. Studies of human-human interactions show that people often follow up requests for information with more questions. This observation also underscores the need for computer-based information systems to let users ask follow-up questions. This capability is especially crucial in patient education, for example, where misunderstandings could have serious consequences. The ability to handle follow-up requests in context is essential, even crucial, to applications like the patient education system described in this article. The direction we've taken presents one alternative to full-fledged natural language-understanding and makes it possible to design systems by adopting a pragmatic (and possibly more useful) approach of generating choices for the user. Our initial system evaluations reveal that users are comfortable with the interface as a way to ask follow-up questions.

Citation:
Johanna D. Moore, Vibhu O. Mittal, "Dynamically Generated Follow-up Questions," Computer, vol. 29, no. 7, pp. 75-86, July 1996, doi:10.1109/2.511971
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