Pizza Emoji
by Brandon Butler
An Education in Gaming the Algorithm 9/2/2020

Monica Chin for The Verge:

Simmons watched [her son] Lazare complete more assignments. She looked at the correct answers, which [online education platform] Edgenuity revealed at the end. She surmised that Edgenuity’s AI was scanning for specific keywords that it expected to see in students’ answers. And she decided to game it.

Now, for every short-answer question, Lazare writes two long sentences followed by a disjointed list of keywords — anything that seems relevant to the question. “The questions are things like... ‘What was the advantage of Constantinople’s location for the power of the Byzantine empire,’” Simmons says. “So you go through, okay, what are the possible keywords that are associated with this? Wealth, caravan, ship, India, China, Middle East, he just threw all of those words in.” [...]

Apparently, that “word salad” is enough to get a perfect grade on any short-answer question in an Edgenuity test.

I think I would have enjoyed taking exams back in high school if I’d be using something like Edgenuity. Being able to game the stupid AI for an easy grade? What’s not to love? I especially love that this kid’s mom is not only poking at this AI grading system, but also encouraging her son to poke at it and tweeting about it, too.

But she’s also asking a valid point: Aside from the basic lesson that AI’s are still kind of dumb (Hey, Siri!) and easily hackable, what is her son learning in his history class? Trying to cram a bunch of ancient names and dates into a teenage brain doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. I mean, I probably had to actually memorize some of this Byzantine empire junk, but I honestly don’t know, as I can’t remember a single thing from my high school history classes. I can’t even remember the classes!