Man versus Machine is a topic that has always generated many existential debates, but for now it is man who has come on top. Recently, 600 of the nation’s best crossword players engaged in a battle of wits with Dr. Fill, a complex crossword-solving program. The crossword showdown took place at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Brooklyn and generated considerable media interest.
Matthew Ginsberg, the creator of Dr. Fill and an authority on artificial intelligence predicted that the program would finish in the top 50, among the 600 contestants; however, he was wrong. Surprisingly, the crossword-solving program finished 141st, which as expected disappointed Ginsberg.
“It was within the range, but I wish it had done better,” Ginsberg said on Sunday. “I’ll be back next year.”
Dr. Fill takes its name from talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw and has in the past solved easier puzzles in a minute and the more complex ones in just three minutes, which is almost half the time taken by its human counterparts. According to Ginsberg, humans and machines play the game differently, as the former relies on accumulated knowledge and the latter on calculations.
Dr. Fill does wonders with traditional crosswords, but it falters with puzzles with humor and unusual themes or letter arrangements. At the tournament, the program struggled with two puzzles, one that included words that had to be spelled backwards, and the other had words that were placed diagonally.
“Two of the puzzles were bizarre in ways that were bad for it,” Ginsberg explained.
“Dr. Fill got killed on puzzles two and five,” said Will Shortz, director of the tournament and the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times.
However, Dr. Fill’s abysmal performance hasn’t discouraged Ginsberg and he has no plans to stop the program.
Edited by Jennifer Russell