Well, it was bound to happen. We’ve seen it in chess, and Go, and Scrabble. Now, crosswords are the latest pastime to fall to the inevitable machine takeover of civilization.
Okay, I’m being a tad hyperbolic here. Robots aren’t snatching crossword puzzles out of peoples’ hands and solving them, after all.
But we have reached a peculiar milestone in AI and crossword history: a computer program won the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Sorta.
Dr. Fill, the crossword-solving creation of Matt Ginsberg, was able to balance the occasional solving mistake with a blistering solving speed in order to overtake any human competitors in its total tournament score.
But not by much. Former ACPT champion Erik Agard was only 15 points behind Dr. Fill on the seven tournament puzzles. Dr. Fill then went on to solve the championship puzzle in 49 seconds (while actual winner Tyler Hinman did so in three minutes).
But, as it turns out, this isn’t the old Dr. Fill that has been competing in the ACPT for years. No, this year’s Dr. Fill is a curious hybrid of the original programming and a neural network known as the Berkeley Crossword Solver.
And this Frankenstein’s monster of puzzle-solving machinery is what toppled the competition in the first-ever virtual edition of the tournament.
According to an article on Slate:
An alliance came naturally. Ginsberg and the Berkeley crew started working together just two weeks before the tournament, plugging the latter system into the former, and the centaur program finally ran with just days to go.
The result, hastily constructed though it was, was a marvel, its pieces working hand in glove to solve crosswords. Ginsberg’s system handled the grid and the colder, mathematical side of things, searching and placing answers, while the Berkeley team’s system unriddled the hazier, “human” side of the language of the clues, crosswords’ music.
You know, it’s kind of reassuring that it took TWO computer programs working in tandem to best the top puzzle solvers.
Also, it’s not like Dr. Fill can actually win a tournament. Not until it can hold a marker and solve in person in front of everybody while Greg Pliska and Ophira Eisenberg crack wise about it, at least.
It does make next year’s tournament more intriguing. Will Dr. Fill perform as well “in person”? Or will the master cruciverbalists retake the title?
And hey, if anyone is building a body for Dr. Fill, please stop. Stop, rewatch every sci-fi movie about AI and robots, and then rethink your life choices.
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