Teaching Artificial Intelligence Through Twenty Questions

from the fun-for-the-whole-cyborg-family dept

Over the years, it seems that the interest in “artificial intelligence” comes and goes in waves — but there are always a few interesting projects that the press loves to focus in on. A few years ago, it was Cyc, the AI system that people had been feeding info for decades, and which plenty of folks were talking about for a couple of years, but which hasn’t receive that much attention lately. It looks like a different, but in some ways similar, project is now getting attention instead. It’s the somewhat addictive online version of 20 Questions (which has been around forever) that is being talked about for its AI potential. One interesting element is that the system has become so addictive that the company that put it together has found that it can make money selling a handheld version of the game — which apparently can figure out what you’re thinking of within 20 questions about 80% of the time. It’s definitely a neat toy, but the question (as with Cyc) is how useful it is for real world applications. The designer names a few potential applications, such as helping to determine hazardous materials. However, one application that makes sense, diagnosing medical problems, seems to scare him off over liability questions. Still, it is always interesting to see how these projects advance.

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Comments on “Teaching Artificial Intelligence Through Twenty Questions”

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Jordan Mitchell says:

Love 20 questions!

My little sister got one for Christmas. We eschewed all our other, more expensive toys and played that thing all day. It got some everyday items, like “trash can” and “wallet”. What amazed me, though, is how specific it could be – for instance, instead of just saying “tile”, it got “ceramic tile”. It determines just enough to be surprisingly fun.

Another application I could think of for something like that would be bird watching, identifying animals, critters, mushrooms, trees, etc. It’s like an electronic Dichotomous Key, which have been used for identifying things like that for years.

mogura says:

20 Questions and Hazmat

My cousin got a 20 questions toy for Christmas. I watched it go around the room and was amazed as it repeatedly matched family members’ words. When I got the thing I tried “Plutonium”, which it was unable to guess. Honestly that scares me, in light of the depth of safety that hazmat requires. Please don’t use computers to do a Geiger counter’s job.

lizard (user link) says:

i have had the mobile version for awhile and it is astonishing how well it guesses — it got chihuaua for cryin’ out loud. not just dog, but a specific breed of dog, and this is the version that runs on a cell phone!

of course, if you let two kids play it and they’re passing the phone back and forth, and they get confused about what they meant to answer questions for, so one is answering for a whale and the other one, a toaster, you get something in between.

a squirrel, actually.

Anonymous Coward says:

the dang thing couldn’t figure out “tennis racket” and then blamed me…look:

You were thinking of a tennis racket.

Do you use it at night? You said Partly, I say No.

Is it brown? You said Sometimes, I say No.

UM, sorry but I play tennis at night all the time!, and i’ve seen lots of rackets that were brown!

a n u s says:


You win, but 20Q did guess it eventually

Play Again

You were thinking of a sphincter.

Does it come in different colours? You said No, I say Probably.

Does it come from something larger? You said Depends, I say Yes.

Does it get really hot? You said Sometimes, I say No.

Is it brown? You said Usually, I say No.

Would you touch it with a 10-foot pole? You said Depends, I say Probably.

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