Inquire Biology: A Textbook that Answers Questions


  • Vinay K. Chaudhri SRI International
  • Britte Cheng SRI International
  • Adam Overtholtzer SRI International
  • Jeremy Roschelle SRI International
  • Aaron Spaulding SRI International
  • Peter Clark Vulcan Inc.
  • Mark Greaves Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Dave Gunning Palo Alto Research Center



Inquire Biology is a prototype of a new kind of intelligent textbook — one that answers students’ questions, engages their interest, and improves their understanding. Inquire Biology provides unique capabilities via a knowledge representation that captures conceptual knowledge from the textbook and uses inference procedures to answer students’ questions. Students ask questions by typing free-form natural language queries or by selecting passages of text. The system then attempts to answer the question and also generates suggested questions related to the query or selection. The questions supported by the system were chosen to be educationally useful, for example: what is the structure of X? compare X and Y? how does X relate to Y? In user studies, students found this question-answering capability to be extremely useful while reading and while doing problem solving. In an initial controlled experiment, community college students using the Inquire Biology prototype outperformed students using either a hardcopy or conventional E-book version of the same biology textbook. While additional research is needed to fully develop Inquire Biology, the initial prototype clearly demonstrates the promise of applying knowledge representation and question-answering technology to electronic textbooks.




How to Cite

Chaudhri, V. K., Cheng, B., Overtholtzer, A., Roschelle, J., Spaulding, A., Clark, P., Greaves, M., & Gunning, D. (2013). Inquire Biology: A Textbook that Answers Questions. AI Magazine, 34(3), 55-72.