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Computer program can beat people at crosswords


A computer program called WebCrow, shown at the European Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Italy, has completed two crosswords from the New York Times and Washington Post in less time than the 25 attendees and 50 people competing over the internet. Linguistics have, to date, been the great leveler between AI and human intelligence: creating software that can complete crosswords (one of the most complex types of linguistic puzzles) faster than humans is a notable milestone on the journey towards true artificial intelligence. The program works by cross-referencing each word from the clue with previously solved crosswords, a dictionary, and the internet. It then records words of the correct length, and combines the suggestions generated from each referenced source: the program then uses trial and error until the answers interlock and the grid is complete. Although the process amounts to not much more than an extremely complicated guess, feeble humans are still left in the dust by the speed of the program. Fortunately, when the inevitable linguistically-aware robot uprising arrives, there will still exist a glimmer of hope for humanity: at the moment, WebCrow takes a long time to complete crosswords with clues that contain puns and politics. In light of this, we'd strongly advise that you keep a political crossword handy at all times: when the robots and computers do decide to take over, at least we'll be able to keep them occupied for a while.

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