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Machines Like Us

A match for angry words

Friday, 02 March 2012

Chessplaying computers are old hat. A superthinker that can best the champions of rapid-response trivia on "Jeopardy"? Last year's news—February of last year, to be precise. Matt Ginsberg, an entrepreneur by day, has set his sights on unconquered territory: crossword puzzles.

The Oxford-trained Dr Ginsberg, a former artificial-intelligence researcher, has created Dr Fill, a system that analyses both clues and answers to solve puzzles with what he says is now a fair degree of accomplishment. Dr Ginsberg previously created the first bridge-playing program that competed at a master level. He is a crossword puzzle constructor, regularly selling his work to Will Shortz, the New York Times editor, who also directs the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, at which Dr Fill will debut on March 16th.

Dr Ginsberg gave himself an additional constraint in building his solver: that it fit on a laptop. That requires his software to be cleverer than Watson, which had many terabytes of data to sift through, but also makes it portable for shows. Dr Ginsberg says this is possible because crossword puzzle clues have correct answers that can be tested against the grid.

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