SITTING down with the Inquire system is, at first, a lot like trying to cosy up to an intimidatingly dense biology textbook. Sure, its presentation on the iPad is slick, but that can’t hide the fact that you are in for a tough old read.
That is until you highlight the first bit of particularly impenetrable text. Suddenly a list of questions pops up in the right-hand margin. Touch one and you are whisked away to a Wikipedia-like page full of information specific to the concept you are stuck on. Terms like “chloroplast” and “plasma membrane” are succinctly defined, and the page explains how each concept fits into the wider field of biology.
Want to know more? Type in your own question and artificially intelligent software will construct a new page to answer your query.
The aim of Inquire is to provide students with the world’s first intelligent textbook, says its creator David Gunning of Seattle-based Vulcan. At first glance, the system just looks like an electronic version of Campbell Biology, the tome that forms the bedrock of biology classes for first-year university and advanced high school students in the US. But behind the scenes is a machine-readable concept map of the 5000 or so ideas covered in the book, along with information on how they are all related.