20 Questions

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Radica has launched a handheld machine that plays 20 Questions to win, taking the opposite approach to the finish line with startlingly accurate results. You think of something, then the machine starts with a gigantic catalog of all possible results, steadily working its way to a smaller and smaller list thanks to carefully crafted questions to which you can answer "Yes" or "No," but also "Sometimes" or "Unknown." There are limitations; for instance, you can’t use proper nouns such as celebrities, cities or your dog. Still, any generic object is fair game including, in my testing, strawberries, digital cameras, meerkats and stereo loudspeakers, among others.

The traditional questions are there: "Is it flat?" "Could it be found in a classroom?" "Does it weigh more than a duck?" There are some updates, too: " Is it bigger than a breadbox?" is now, "Is it bigger than a microwave oven?" After the 20th question, it tosses out its leading guess. If that’s not right, it asks five more questions, guessing again after Number 25. If it’s still wrong, it concedes defeat with, "I guess you were lucky this time!" If it’ s right, it exclaims, "I’m very smart! I win!"

Wilson Rothman
TIME Gadget of the Week

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Related link: 20Q

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3 Responses to 20 Questions

  1. Mark Simpson says:

    What this is missing is a way of learning. Back in the 80′s in my high-school we had a PDP-10 computer. It had a game on it that played this. But when it failed to get the answer it asked for the user to type in a question that would help it differentiate the real answer from its guess. Then next time it could use that question to help.

    After many users played the game it would become pretty good.

  2. Steve Arnold says:

    There’s an online version of this somewhere that does have the learn facility…guess they keep updating the hand-held version before they make a new batch…

  3. Joel says:

    Mark: Yes and no. The handheld device doesn’t actively learn new answers, but the data it uses comes from the online game at http://www.20q.net/ which does actively learn from its users every time someone plays. It has had probably a lot more users and input than the PDP-10 version ever had. Both the handheld and the online version are very good.

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