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I played Scrabble with a robot, and I lost

I played Scrabble with a robot, and I lost


Everyone is trying to put robots to work, whether it be factories or the service industry. But how about letting them have a little fun and games?

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, I had the chance to sit down for a Scrabble match with the Intelligent Vision System robot, an A.I.-backed companion bot that definitely knows how to rack up its fair share of Triple Word points.

The IVS is equipped with cameras in its head that can "see" the board and the letter pieces on it, all of which are oversized to match the bot's giant stature. The smarts on the inside measure all the possible game moves and then instruct the robot's two Smart Grip "hands" to grab and place pieces in exactly the right places necessary to most laughably outscore weak-brained human opponents like me.

My short game with IVS ended in a score of 40 to 80 in its favor. But earlier in same day, North American Scrabble Champ Will Anderson beat IVS in a full game, 376 to 336, proving there is still hope for humanity. Kind of.

See, the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI), the organization that made IVS, told me that the robot isn't programmed to be a Scrabble champion, per se, but just to "play a pretty good game." So the potential for a world where merciless machines dominate all Scrabble remains in place. It's just not going to be the goal of this machine.

Robots that look mechanically like IVS are mostly found today in manufacturing. So one practical use for the "vision" developed for IVS could be to add it there to help worker machines detect and better navigate around unforeseen of off-script issues that might arise on a factory floor or assembly line.

But the whole "playing Scrabble" element of ITRI's demo isn't strictly proof of concept, either. Similar versions of IVS could eventually be put to work in homes for the elderly to serve as companionship, the organization told me. And Scrabble isn't the only game the system knows. At last year's CES, ITRI had it playing show-goers in chess.

So learning a bit about fun and games, yes. But it looks like our gear-and-circuit board friends are still going to be sticking to the grind for now. Which is good, because we humans can, at least for a while longer, continue to pretend like we're still the kings of board games.

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