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This is amazing
by Bruce Ure at 13:43 09/06/06 (Blogs::Bruce)
You know me, I love my gadgets.
The other day I saw an advert on kids' morning telly for a thing called "20Q" (for 20 Questions). It's a thing about the size and shape of a tangerine, with 4 buttons on it marked "Unknown", "Yes", "No" and "Sometimes".

You think of a thing, a la "Animal, vegetable or mineral" game you used to play in the car on long journeys when you were a kid, and press one of the buttons to start.

It scrolls questions along the tiny screen, first asking you whether it's animal, vegetable, mineral or other. That's the first question. After that it asks other questions, often seemingly irrelevant, and after 20 questions is has a guess at what you're thinking of. If it's wrong it asks another 5 questions and then has another guess. And it taunts you along the way saying things like "You think you're tricky!" and "I know what you're thinking of!"

Nothing terribly exciting so far, you might think, but what's got me about it is how bloody good it is.

OK, you have to be a little selective in your objects (it didn't guess Clint Eastwood, but it came up with "Is it a soulmate?" so at least along the right lines), and some of the questions don't make a lot of sense, but that's what the "Unknown" button is for.

I have read claims on the net that it can identify obscure breeds of dog but I'm skeptical.

However the other night it identified "ashtray", and then "pillow", then "gun", and yesterday I had another play and it got "scissors", and "gerbil". Then just now it got "computer keyboard".

Pretty amazing stuff, especially when you have watched the questions because they really don't seem terribly relevant. I really didn't think it would get "gerbil", I mean how did it know I wasn't thinking of a mouse? (Possibly the question 'is it multicoloured' to which I answered "no", whereas a mouse would have been "sometimes".)

Anyway, you start off thinking "there's no way it's gonna get this!"

And then it does.

Recommeneded for a quick play.

Apparently it was based on this web site: http://www.20q.net/.

And you can buy the toy everywhere; just google for "20q".


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This is amazing Bruce Ure - 13:43 09/06/06
Re: This is amazing Simon - 13:52 09/06/06
Got one as a present last year, and it has good days and bad days :-)

What it makes of your answer to "Does it bring joy to people?" is anyone's guess, but ours is very fond of that question.

Re: This is amazing Bruce Ure - 14:11 09/06/06
Yeah it asked me that about the keyboard, and the gun, and possibly the gerbil.

I'm imagining a huge matrix listing each object along with the most likely answers to each question, or perhaps a weighting (Hugo?). Thinking about it, "does it bring joy to people?" might be a good way of pretty much halving any given list. I suppose all the questions are trying to do that, though.



Re: This is amazing Hugo van der Sanden - 15:56 09/06/06
Quite possibly, though even then you need some cleverness to choose the next question so as to cut things down.

How is it on more complex things, like "the winter solstice", or "a lump of green putty I found under my armpit this morning", or "the dance of the seven veils"?


Re: This is amazing David Crowson - 07:47 12/06/06
I didn't think it was up to much as I managed to fool it first time....

but then I'm not normal, as people keep telling me :)

Re: This is amazing Bruce Ure - 07:54 12/06/06
It's not hard to fool.

For me it's become more about choosing something slightly more tricky than the last one it got, but wanting it to be right. And it is alarmingly good once you work out what it's getting at with some of the more ambiguous questions.

It got "wine" yesterday. Not "a bottle of wine" or "a glass of wine" but "wine", in the abstract.