Published online by Cambridge University Press: 17 June 2021
Automatic question generation is one of the most challenging tasks of Natural Language Processing. It requires “bidirectional” language processing: first, the system has to understand the input text (Natural Language Understanding), and it then has to generate questions also in the form of text (Natural Language Generation). In this article, we introduce our framework for generating the factual questions from unstructured text in the English language. It uses a combination of traditional linguistic approaches based on sentence patterns with several machine learning methods. We first obtain lexical, syntactic and semantic information from an input text, and we then construct a hierarchical set of patterns for each sentence. The set of features is extracted from the patterns, and it is then used for automated learning of new transformation rules. Our learning process is totally data-driven because the transformation rules are obtained from a set of initial sentence–question pairs. The advantages of this approach lie in a simple expansion of new transformation rules which allows us to generate various types of questions and also in the continuous improvement of the system by reinforcement learning. The framework also includes a question evaluation module which estimates the quality of generated questions. It serves as a filter for selecting the best questions and eliminating incorrect ones or duplicates. We have performed several experiments to evaluate the correctness of generated questions, and we have also compared our system with several state-of-the-art systems. Our results indicate that the quality of generated questions outperforms the state-of-the-art systems and our questions are also comparable to questions created by humans. We have also created and published an interface with all created data sets and evaluated questions, so it is possible to follow up on our work.