Saturday, August 27, 2011

20Q Game Versus Me--I win Once

Sitting on my friend Chris' desk at work was a shiny little blue object that looked like a fat Duncan Imperial yoyo. I picked it up and read "20Q" on it. It's a game, it turns out.

The 20Q is an electric (and solitary) version of the old 20 Questions parlor game. In that scenario, the collective wisdom of the group ferrets out the object you're thinking of and tries to guess the answer. You win if you can fool them. And it's a good way for people to enjoy time together.

The device I played with is a handheld version of something that also exists as a website. The website is not a repository of facts, but an actual interactive artificial intelligence creation that can learn and use the questions to narrow down to find the answer. The handheld device carries only a fraction of the intelligence of the website and can't learn in the same way, but it's still pretty amazing for a toy that sells on Amazon for less than 7 bucks.

I tried it twice yesterday with a simple object (an elephant) and a more obscure one (an IUD birth control device). As I expected, it guessed the elephant with no problem (the first question is the animal/vegetable/mineral/other one). However, it didn't get the IUD, even after it took an extra five questions--apparently the method.

The device "talks" to you, saying things in the middle of the questions like, "I'm keeping an eye on you," and "If you're quiet you can hear me thinking." It is not happy when you beat it, but gloats when it wins. Of course, it always asks you if you want to play again, and if it loses, it says "I believe in second chances," almost begging you to let it redeem itself.

I tried thinking of the word "tattoo" today and it got that one. So it's 20Q 2, Testdrivinglife 1 at this point.

Interestingly, I tried the elephant and IUD 20-question run again today and it asked some different questions. So this little toy has more brains than you might think. I'm about ready to try it again--it seems like one of those addictive, time-filling little gadgets that the world is so filled with today.

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